NOT in their wildest dreams did Liesl Tesch and Daniel Fitzgibbon believe they would be on the dais receiving a gold medal at the London Paralympic Sailing Regatta.
The Australian pair comfortably won the Skud 18 class by six points ahead of the USA, without needing to sail the 11th and final race of the series, which was eventually called off due to a lack of wind.
“It was pretty disappointing and a bit of an anticlimax that we didn’t get to win on the water, we won yesterday but not today but that’s sailing so we’re used to it,” said Fitzgibbon.
Tesch and Fitzgibbon were then forced to wait patiently until 6:30pm local time, for the medal ceremony. A moment they thought would never come so soon after they first started sailing together in December of 2010.
There was barely a dry eye from the Australian contingent neither in the crowd nor on the podium when the national anthem rung around Portland Harbour.
“There was a tear in my eye, I’m a very solid stone faced guy, I couldn’t sing it I was just staring at the flag absorbing it all,” said Fitzgibbon.
Fitzgibbon has worked tirelessly to become a Paralympic champion since a sailing accident left him a quadriplegic. In Beijing he partnered Rachael Cox to silver now at the London Games he got exactly what he came here for, that coveted gold.
“It’s amazing, it’s going to take a while to sink in, I’ll have to look at it for a while then I’ll know it’s real and mine,” said Fitzgibbon.
Tesch, a two-time silver and bronze medallist in wheelchair basketball admits she never thought her first Paralympic gold medal would come in sailing.
“I think it will be everything I dreamt of tomorrow when the Gliders win one too! It’s definitely awesome that I’ve got this gold medal but it’s been 20 years of basketball and so in my head I have really been envisaging getting that medal in basketball,” said Tesch.
The high school teacher from the New South Wales central coast has dedicated her gold medal to her mum, who passed away from bone cancer on the first day of competition.
“She has made me who I am, a fantastic supporter behind me, this one is for her and all those mothers out there who have passed away.”
“She’ll be telling me to go and have a nap then watch those Gliders tonight,” said Tesch.
Australia’s Sonar crew of Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris and Stephen Churm finished sixth overall in a fleet of 14. The Netherlands took gold while Germany edged out Norway for silver.
In the 2.4mR class Tasmanian Matthew Bugg ended his first Paralympics in seventh spot with Great Britain’s Helena Lucas taking the gold.
Australia’s Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris and Stephen Churm finished sixth overall in the Sonar class.
Harrison, Harris and Churm finished just seven points behind second and five off third following a week of close racing on Portland Harbour.
The Australians, who were competing in only their third international regatta together after teaming up in January this year, were in the mix all regatta, having the early event lead following a good opening day.
Harrison and crew went on to claim four top three finishes from the 10 races, with the light winds on Thursday unfortunately stopping them from pushing on for a medal in the final race.
London 2012 was Harrison’s third Paralympic Games after competing Athens and the winning bronze in Beijing four years ago.
Tasmanian sailor Matt Bugg finished seventh overall in the 2.4mR class on his Paralympic Games debut.
Bugg, who has only been competing internationally in the 2.4mR class since the middle of 2010, was mixing with a fleet full of former Paralympic and World Champions all week, eventually finishing 19 points off the podium.
Bugg finished in the top 10 in nine of the 10 races, the only time he was outside the 10 was when he had to retire from Wednesday’s final race after suffering boat damage in a collision.
Bugg had a consistent week, with three top five finishes and was in the hunt for the medals for much of the regatta.
By Jacqueline Chartres and Craig Heydon