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Paralympic Sailing

Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch at the Rio Games. PHOTO: Richard Langdon

Paralympic Sailing is open to athletes with limb loss / limb deficiency, cerebral palsy / brain injury, vision impairment, spinal and nerve injuries and other physical impairments. Athletes must navigate a set course in a faster time than their opponents.

Athletes compete in three events, which are non-gender specific: the single-person and three-person keelboats are open to most impairment groups. The two-person keelboat event is specifically designed for athletes with a severe impairment.

Sailing started to attract sailors with a disability in the 1980s and the first international sailing competition for athletes with a disability was held in Switzerland.

In 1988 the International Handicap Sailing Committee (IHSC) was founded and began working to organise competitions and forums to promote sailing for persons with a disability. In 1990 sailing made its debut as an exhibition sport at the World Games for the Disabled.

In 1991 the International Sailing Federation recognised the IHSC, which was renamed later that year the International Foundation for Disabled Sailing (IFDS).

Sailing appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1996 Atlanta Games and in 2000 gained full Paralympic sport status at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. It was included in the Paralympic Games competition programme as a medal sport with events for the Sonar (three person keelboat) and the 2.4mR (single-person keelboat).

The same events were on show at Athens 2004 before the SKUD18 was introduced for the Beijing 2008 Paralympics Games.

At the first Paralympic sailing competition, Australia topped the medal count, with Noel Robins, Jamie Dunross & Graeme Martin combining to win gold in the Sonar. Australia went on to win medals at the Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. The Rio Games were highlighted by Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch winning back-to-back gold medals in the Skud 18 class, and Australia won medals in both other classes, making it the most successful nation in the Paralympic sailing competition.

The International Paralympic Committee decided to remove Para Sailing from the Paralympics at Tokyo 2020; and a subsequent campaign and application to have it reinstated for Los Angeles 2028 was ultimately unsuccessful. Australian Sailing is committed to ensuring it is reinstated for the Brisbane 2032 Paralympics.