Winning the North American championship for disabled persons in the Sonar keelboat in preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics put Noel Robins OAM (1945-2003), Jamie Dunross OAM (1965) and Graeme Martin OAM (1949) in good stead to continue the winning glory of Australia’s Olympic sailors.
The racing was held against one of the most spectacular backdrops in the world, within sight of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. The Australian team, headed by former America’s Cup skipper Noel Robins, battled hard and held their nerve in a variety of conditions to win the Sydney Paralympic regatta and claim gold in the three-man Sonar class.
It was an historic medal for the Australians because it was the first time sailing was included on the Paralympic program as a medal sport. Racing was only held in the Sonar keelboat and the one-person 2.4mR keelboat classes.
After the gold medal wins of the women’s and men’s 470 crews at the Sydney Olympics, Australians were delighted to see more success from our Paralympic sailing team.
Noel, a world-renowned and respected sailor in his own right, and his team strung together an impressive scorecard of a 3-1-3-3-2-11-4-1-1.
They were able to drop their worst result which meant that the Aussies finished top four in all their counting races.
The Australians beat the German team of Jens Kroger, Peter Muenster and Peter Reich for the gold medal with the Canadian team of Paul Tingley, David Williams and Brian MacDonald taking bronze.
The Sydney 2000 Paralympics were the first to be held in the southern hemisphere and brought together 4000 of the world’s elite disabled athletes from 122 countries.
Noel Robins, who sailed from his early childhood, became partially quadriplegic from a spinal fracture sustained in a car crash when he was just 21. His long list of sailing achievements included skippering Australia in the 1977 America’s Cup against Ted Turner’s Courageous and helming Hitchhiker II in the two-tonne world championship in 1981. At 55 he was the oldest sailor to win a gold medal at the Paralympics. In 2003 Noel Robins died after being hit by a car. Noel was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2001 and posthumously inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 2013.
Jamie Dunross became a quadriplegic after an explosion at a gold mine in Kalgoorlie. After the Paralympics, he became the first person with quadriplegia to circumnavigate Australia unassisted in 2010.
Graeme Martin, whose left leg was amputated after an accident while fighting fires, went on to win a bronze medal at the 2008 Paralympics in the Sonar class.
Jamie and Graeme were awarded their Order of Australia Medals in 2001 with Noel for their achievements in Sport.