Qingdao, China (September 12, 2008) - Nick Scandone (Newport Beach, Calif.) and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Marblehead, Mass.) clinched the gold medal in the SKUD-18 fleet Friday with two races left to go in the Paralympic regatta.
The unstoppable team won two more races today, strengthening their substantial nine-point lead ahead of their competitors. John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis.) sits in second place in the 2.4 mR fleet, while the Sonar team of Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Tim Angle (Marblehead, Mass.) and Bill Donohue (Brick, N.J.), had their single best racing day of the regatta today.
Scandone and McKinnon-Tucker plan to race tomorrow, the last day of the regatta, even though they have already secured the gold medals. "It's almost hard to believe," said Scandone, incredulously. "I won't feel like it's real until the gold medal is placed around my neck."
"I feel exhausted, very satisfied and somewhat overwhelmed all at the same time," he said. "It's been such a long road to get here," he said. "It's emotionally overwhelming for me to finally realize my goal."
For Scandone, this gold medal is everything he has dreamed of and worked hard to achieve. As his condition progressed from ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, it became increasingly more difficult to train and compete. There were days filled with doubt, but he met each obstacle with the same strength and determination he had as a young, able-bodied sailor. "This is something I've strived for since I was 20 years old, when I was trying to go for gold in the 470 class. Now, to reach that goal," he said, "it's hard to describe in words."
Mary-Kate Scandone has supported her husband every step of his Olympic and Paralympic journey, through the accomplishments and the adversity and through the enthusiasm and exhaustion. "I have seen struggles behind the scenes that were so tremendous to overcome," she said. "It was so hard to just get here. There were many times Nick doubted he was going to make it to China."
"I feel so much joy that he has achieved this goal," she added. "Now it's time to go home and rest."
This is a bittersweet moment for the couple. "It's everything we've been fighting for," said Mary-Kate. "Sailing and his [Paralympic] goal has kept him alive." In an emotional moment, Mary-Kate thanked the designer of Nick's boat "because he gave me four more years with my husband," she said.
Today, they are basking in the moment of this momentous experience. "Let's think about today and every moment and every second of this experience," Mary-Kate told Nick. "It's still not over yet."
Nick Scandone credits a team of people who have assisted him in reaching his Paralympic goals. "This gold medal is not only for me and Maureen," he said. "It's for all the other people who have helped me along the way, from my yacht club to family and friends who have supported me throughout my venture."
The entire team celebrated Scandone and McKinnon-Tucker's gold medal achievement today after racing, providing their teammates the confidence and positive mental attitude going into the last day of racing. "Their gold medal performance is a combination of a lot of hard work two of them to put together," said an ecstatic Head Coach Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.). "I couldn't be prouder of our team and our athletes' efforts. Everyone is supporting each other."
The Sonar team of Skipper Doerr and his crew, Angle and Donohue had their single best racing day of the regatta, with strong second, third and fourth place finishes. Doerr's team won their fleet today by earning the lowest combined score in the Sonar class. The heavy team welcomed more wind today (6 to 8 knots), after a week of limp air that wreaked havoc on their speed and confidence.
"This light stuff is just a horror," he said. "We didn't have the boat speed to punch out."
Once the wind hit 8 knots, Doerr said his boat started rumbling, and their boat speed increased. Their second, third and fourth place scores proved their decision to race conservatively was right on track. "It was all about being smart, staying in touch and doing all the basic things right. We had enough velocity across the course to sail our regular game plan."
"We knew if we stayed in the hunt, we'd be proud of our performance," said Doerr. He said his team stayed relaxed on the water today, after fighting stressful and challenging conditions all week. They replaced their nervousness and anxiety with optimism. "I don't know if that made us sail better, but we felt a lot better today. The pressure was off."
A tropical storm looms in the China Sea, which could bring more breeze and big waves on the race course tomorrow. This is music to Doerr's ears. "It would be idyllic for us," said Doerr. "We're salivating."
"If we get the same kind of conditions we had today, we might be able to threaten this fleet a little more," challenged Doerr. "They may have experienced a false sense of security. We may be the dark horse on the outside that no one is paying attention to."
2.4 mR sailor Ruf sailed two races today, adding a third place finish to his scorecard and dropping his lowest score of tenth place. Ruf sits in an admirable second place going into the final day of racing. "John is focused on the positive and moving forward," said Alison. "He's ready to get the job done."
"When the die is rolled and the scores come out, we can absolutely say we put our best foot forward," said Alison.
The final two races of the regatta are scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, September 13. The medals will also be awarded tomorrow. The regatta includes a total of eleven races over five days throughout the week. There will not be a medal race in the Paralympic Regatta, unlike the Olympic Regatta last month.
Current Standings for U.S. Paralympic Sailors (For full results please visit ISAF's web site: www.sailing.org/24859.php)
SKUD-18: 11 boats
1. Nick Scandone (Newport Beach, Calif., USA) and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Marblehead, Mass., USA), 2, 1, 1, 1, (3), 2, 1, 1; 9
2. John Scott McRoberts and Stacie Louttit, CANADA, (3), 3, 3, 3, 1, 3, 2, (8); 18
3. Daniel Fitzgibbon and Rachael Cox, AUSTRALIA, (4), 2, 2, 2, 2, 4, (9), 3; 19
Sonar: 14 boats
1. Bruno Jourdren, Herve Larhant and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary, FRANCE, 4, 1, 1, 2, (7), 1,(10), 5, (8); 21
2. Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Graeme Martin, AUSTRALIA, 8, 4, 2, 3, 3, 3, 1, (10), (15 OCS); 24
3. Jens Kroker, Robert Prem, Siegmund Mainka, GERMANY, 5, 6, 3, 1, 4, (11), 5, 2, (9); 26
7. Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J., USA), Tim Angle (Marblehead, Mass., USA) and Bill Donohue (Brick, N.J., USA), 1, 9, 10, 6, (11), 10, 2, 3, 4; 35
2.4 mR: 16 boats
1. Paul Tingley, CANADA, 1, 1, 5, 2, (9), 9, 2, 4; 24
2. John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis., USA), 2, 6, 1, (9), 1, 7, (10), 3; 29
3. Heiko Kroger, GERMANY, 3, 2, (11), 6, 4, 3, 1, 11; 41