The Rio 2016 U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team was comprised of six sailors hailing from six different U.S. States. Each athlete qualified for the team based on the results of US Sailing’s Rio 2016 Athlete Selection Series. The Games of the XV Paralympiad took place from September 7-18, 2016, and the sailing events were based at Marina da Gloria on Rio de Janeiro’s harbor front. The Paralympic Games featured approximately 4,300 athletes from 161 countries competing in 22 sports. The sailing events included 80 athletes from 23 nations competing in three classes. Racing was conducted from September 12-17, 2016.
With a victory in the final race of the event, U.S. Paralympic Sailing Team sailors Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Maine) won silver medals in the Sonar class, the three-person Paralympic keelboat. For all three sailors it was the first Paralympic medal of their careers.
Gold in the Sonar was won by the Australian team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris. Bronze was secured by Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes of Canada. Several teams were in the running for the podium coming into the 6th and final day of the sailing events of Rio 2016, but Team USA saved their best race for last to win silver in dramatic fashion.
“Rick, Brad, and Hugh sailed a great series and earned their silver medal today by racing smart and fast in the final race, on a difficult course and under pressure,” said Josh Adams, Managing Director of U.S. Olympic Sailing, who served as Team Leader for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. “They’ve worked incredibly hard as a team over the years and deserve this result.
Doerr, Kendell and Freund entered Rio 2016 as the reigning Para Sailing World Champions and had high hopes for a podium performance. Doerr, the helmsman, is the longest-tenured athlete on the U.S. Sailing Team, having campaigned for the Paralympic Games almost continuously since 1998. Rio 2016 was his second Paralympic appearance following an 8th place performance in Beijing 2008 with different teammates. For Kendell and Freund, Rio 2016 is their first career appearance at the Games.
“We came into today in a similar position as we had at the World Championship earlier this year, with everything to play for on the final day,” said Freund on the dock. “We really sailed the way the three of us know how to sail this boat.”
Kendell said that it was hard to put into words what this means for the three tight-knit athletes. “2016 has been unbelievable, and this is the year we’ve worked so hard for. Coming in as World Champions, you don’t want to let it get inside your head, but you know at least that you have a chance to medal.”
The team also paid tribute to their coach, Mike Ingham (Rochester, N.Y.) who worked intensively with Doerr, Kendell and Freund for the final two year years of the Rio 2016 quadrennium. “We had talent on our team, but Mike figured out how to make it all work,” said Freund. “If you look at our trajectory, it’s a huge testament to his ability as a coach to get the most out of people.” Ingham holds over 20 U.S. national and North American one-design sailing titles, and helped Doerr, Kendell and Freund win their first world championship as a team.
In the 2.4mR, Dee Smith (Annapolis, Md.) finished his regatta strong with a 1,5,6 in the final races, but in the end finished just off the podium in 4th overall. “I sailed OK today, and I did everything I wanted to do on the racecourse. I just got caught in traffic,” said Smith, a cancer survivor, on the dock after the final race. Smith is a veteran of the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Maxi competition and many other high-level racing programs over the course of his professional sailing career, but Rio 2016 was his first Paralympic Games appearance.
“I don’t remember sailing against better competition, anywhere,” said Smith. “The effort I put into this campaign is as strong as I’ve done for anything in my career, and the people I sailed against were just exceptionally good.” Smith was coached in Rio by Brazilian native Maru Urban (Salvador, Brazil).