LONDON (Reuters) - This year’s Paralympics in Rio will be different from previous competitions for British sailing gold medalist Helena Lucas as a taboo was broken when the Games “came home” to London in 2012.
“Up until the London Games it was a bit of a taboo subject and people would be embarrassed to ask you about your disability or to chat to you about it,” Lucas, who was born without thumbs and only has the use of two fingers on both hands, told Reuters.
“The British people made us feel like athletes and on a par with the Olympic athletes. I think Brazil don’t quite have maybe the same attitude as the British public, but they know that they have a lot to live up to,” she said in an interview before the Royal Yachting Association Dinghy Show.
Lucas has been at or near the top of her sport for much of her life, but she had given up hope of winning Olympic gold after missing out on selection in the 470 dinghy class for Athens in 2004.
Then, out of the blue, she was scouted to sail instead for Britain in the Paralympics in the solo 2.4mR class, something she had never considered and took a while to decide on pursuing.
But there has been no looking back for 40-year-old Lucas, who went on to win gold in the 2012 London Paralympic Games and is now hoping to replicate that feat at Rio in September.
“What I loved about the British public is that they saw through the disabilities and saw us as athletes and what we could achieve,” Lucas said.
Unfortunately for Lucas and her fellow sailors, Rio could be the end as sailing has been dropped at Tokyo’s Paralympics in 2020.
With no guarantee of it being re-introduced, Lucas thinks Rio is likely to be her last shot, although she is not ruling out competing again altogether.
“Never say never, you might see me on a bike or something.”
For now she is concentrating on winning and is totally immersed in preparations, from testing her new boat to taking steps to avoid illness from the pollution in Guanabara Bay.
Like some of her rivals, she is concerned that given their proximity to the water, 2.4mR sailors are more vulnerable, but she is philosophical about it.
“At the end of the day you can argue it’s the same for everybody,” she said, adding that in four training trips to Rio she has not been sick after taking precautions such as having mouthwash aboard and drinking copious cola when she lands.
Lucas says Brazil is “making a big effort” to make the Paralympics a success and is hoping that its “fun loving” people will respond by giving it as much support as they can.
Editing by Rex Gowar