John Twomey bowed out of his Paralympic sailing career in Rio at the weekend after a tricky series left the Irish Sonar crew in 13th place overall. Kinsale's Twomey, Ian Costelloe and Austin O'Carroll had hoped to finish on a high especially after seeing training partners finish in the medals.
Twomey retires from Paralympic sailing, marking the end of a career that includes 11 Paralympic Games, a bronze and a gold medal in the discus and finishing in Rio proudly carrying the Irish flag in the opening ceremony.
'Our two training partners took silver and bronze and we are just as fast as they are, we just didn't have the knack of dealing with the winds here,' Twomey told RTE news.
The Rio regatta was a significant day for Ireland in Paralympic sport as it marked the retirement of one of Paralympics great ambassadors and Ireland's longest serving competitor.
'Sonar skipper John John leaves behind an impressive legacy in Paralympic sport that will surely serve to inspire the next generation of Paralympic sailors. Thanks for all the years as a great competitor John and we wish you all the best in your next endeavours, ' an Irish Sailing Association (ISA) post on social media said.
In a finale fitting on the setting, the Rio 2016 Paralympic Sailing Competition came to a spectacular close with the medals decided in front of a sell-out crowd lining the shores of Flamengo Beach.
Racing on the Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) race course, onlookers were treated to a thrilling climax in which some medals were settled by just seconds.
After 11 races under the backdrop of Sugarloaf Mountain and Christ the Redeemer, the stakes were high for a chosen few sailors who had the opportunity to grab a Paralympic medal. But while some would feel the elation, some would inevitable miss out.
With the gold wrapped up in the Sonar by the Australian team of Colin Harrison, Russell Boaden and Jonathan Harris with a race to spare, it was down to the battle for silver and bronze.
Mathematically there were still quite a few teams left in the fight, but USA and Canada, sitting in second and third respectively, had the advantage before the final race got underway. That advantage paid dividends in the end as Alphonsus Doerr, Hugh Freund and Bradley Kendell (USA) confirmed silver with Paul Tingley, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes (CAN) taking bronze, but only just.
USA set their stall out early and headed for the top end of the fleet, they knew where they needed to be. At the half way point they hit the front, and they stayed there to claim a race win and the silver medal.
Kendall will take to the podium with his teammates, but he had to endure a restless night as he knew the pressure was on, "Not much sleep last night, not much sleep. Woke up in the middle of the night and certainly started thinking about the race and how we were going to get out there and manage it and what we had to do. We wanted to win that race and go out in style and that's what we do. But not much sleep.
Freund bounced in with enthusiasm, "I slept great last night and woke up early and did some yoga.” "Good for you,” said Kendall. The sleep patterns may be different but the collective result was the same.
Claiming the 2016 Para World Sailing Championships earlier in the year had given the Americans the experience to call upon when faced with a similar final race situation, "We went into today knowing we'd had one rough day and four pretty good ones and we were in the same position we were in before the world championship with everything to play for. We knew if we sailed the boat the way the three of us know how to, everything would work out. It was really good execution from every person on the team.”
Race execution paid, but there was also a little help from another source as Kendall called in an old 'family favour', "I'm half a New Zealander, my dad was from there. The Kiwis sort of owed us a favour from the other day. They really fought with us at the end. They weren't giving us too much. We knew we had to go straight to the finish line as fast as we could and we were still working on sail trim on the reach. That's what it was all about.”
New Zealand's Richard Dodson, Andrew May and Chris Sharp rounded the first mark back in eighth position, but from there they charged to the front to worry the Canadians. The Kiwis pushed USA right to the finish but missed out on the bullet by just one second.
Further back the Canadians weren't making life easy for themselves. From the start they fell to the back and had to pick off a few boats and make their way through the field in the hunt for a medal.
USA had beaten New Zealand to first by one second and Canada eventually pipped France by one second to get seventh. That collective two seconds had shaped the medal podium as Canada and New Zealand where now tied on overall points. The Canadians won on a countback thanks to two race wins to the New Zealanders one.
For Campbell, it was all a bit too close for comfort, "We were unsure on the results and it probably took three or four minutes to find out where we finished, but we didn't know until our coach told us. We knew it was tight and when racing was done it was a pressure release.”
Teammate Lutes summed up for the team what the being on the podium means to them, with a traditional culinary reference, "It's a treat, it's a treat,” he chuckled. "We love racing and that's why we do it. No matter what, happy to be here but on a cake, icing is nice and this is the icing on the cake.”