Opening Paralympic Races Set For Monday
"We feel really prepared. This is our fourth trip to Rio, and it feels like home on the water. We're ready to go on Monday." - Maureen McKinnon
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Monday will see the opening races of the Rio 2016 Paralympic sailing competition, and six American athletes will compete in three classes over the next six days. The U.S. Sailing Team enters the world's premier adaptive sailing event with confidence and momentum, having secured solid results at regattas around the world since the previous Games at London 2012. U.S. Paralympic sailors have also trained extensively around the competition areas on Guanabara Bay in the run up to the event, utilizing the same training facilities, technical experts, and multi-year venue research as the U.S. Olympic Team.
"Leading in to the regatta, our athletes have maximized their time training in Rio and preparing for these Paralympic Games," said Josh Adams, the Managing Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing and Team Leader for the Paralympic Sailing Team. "Extensive work has been done to refine the team's sailing equipment, learn the tactical nuances of the Games race courses, and apply lessons learned at the Olympics for the benefit of the Paralympic athletes," said Adams. "Since our team's arrival in Rio at the end of August, we have worked to establish the athletes' daily routines and ready the support systems that will help them to perform."
Pictured: Doerr, Kendell and Freund, Sonar Class. Photo: Richard Langdon / World Sailing
The United States will be represented in the three-person Sonar class by the reigning Para Sailing World Champions. Helmsman Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.) is the longest-tenured member of the U.S. national team, having campaigned for the Paralympic Games almost continuously since 1998. Doerr won his second career world title in 2016, and Rio 2016 will be his second Paralympic appearance following an 8th place performance in Beijing 2008 with different teammates. Competing with Doerr in Rio will be Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine) who will both be making their first appearance at the Games.
"We spent a lot of time preparing ourselves and our equipment for this moment, so we can relax a bit knowing that everything that must be done has been done," said Freund. "When the keel drops in the water, we will be ready to race."
The American Sonar team has won five medals at Sailing World Cup Miami, North America’s premier Olympic and Paralympic classes regatta since joining forces seven years ago. The trio narrowly missed out on London 2012, finishing 2nd at the team trials. In 2015, Doerr, Kendell and Freund won the Sunbrella Golden Torch Award in Miami, given to the top-performing American boat at the event. They were the first Paralympic-class athletes to gain this distinction in the 26-year history of the event. The team was highly competitive during their first five years together, but reached a new level of performance in 2015 by adding coach Mike Ingham (Rochester, N.Y.) to the program. Ingham holds over 20 national and North American one-design titles, and helped Doerr, Kendell and Freund win their first world championship as a team.
Pictured: Dee Smith, 2.4mR class.
In the one-person 2.4mR class, Team USA will be represented by accomplished professional sailor Dee Smith (Annapolis, Md.). Smith is a veteran of the America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Maxis and many other high-level racing programs over the course of his career. While Smith has hundreds of thousands of ocean racing miles under his belt, he noted that Rio 2016 will be a wholly new experience.
"I've probably put more preparation into this regatta than any event I've ever done in my career," said Smith. While competing with an America’s Cup challenger syndicate in 2007, Smith was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, a condition that eventually impacted his spine. Smith launched his campaign in April of 2015, relatively late in the Rio 2016 quadrennium, after being classified as a Paralympic competitor by World Sailing. "Knowing that I was so far behind when I started, and understanding what I needed to get done to be fast enough, [the extensive preparation in Rio] was necessary. It's always hard to get to the level of the best in any one-design boat. I'm not sure if I'm there yet, but I just need to sail well."
Smith’s top results to date include a 5th at the 2016 Para Sailing World Championship, 6th at the 2015 Para Worlds, and a 7th at the 2015 2.4mR Open Worlds. He will be coached at Rio 2016 by U.S. Sailing Team coach Maru Urban (Salvador, Brazil).
Pictured: Porteous and McKinnon, SKUD-18 class.
In the two-person SKUD-18, the American boat will be manned by a combination of fresh talent and veteran success in Ryan Porteous (San Diego, Calif.) and Beijing 2008 gold medalist Maureen McKinnon (Marblehead, Mass.). Porteous, a first-time Paralympian, teamed up with McKinnon in 2015. "We feel really prepared. This is our fourth trip to Rio, and it feels like home on the water. We're ready to go on Monday," said McKinnon, who has been sailing the SKUD-18 since shortly after its inception as a class. The Marblehead native earned the title of Paralympic Champion as the teammate of the late Nick Scandone (Fountain Valley, Calif.), and has her eyes set on adding a second medal to her collection. Coaching Porteous and McKinnon at Rio 2016 will be longtime U.S. Sailing Team Paralympic Coach and record five-time US Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.).
After years of planning, training, travel and racing, the U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team will proudly fly the stars and stripes on Guanabara Bay this week. "Our team represents Team USA in all three adaptive sailing classes in the true spirit of Paralympic sport and with a fierce competitiveness," said Adams. "The athletes have worked extremely hard these past few years and are prepared to race in Rio at a highly competitive level."