Australia’s Paralympic paddlers have kicked-off the 2019 Paralympic qualification season in style with the 2019 Canoe Sprint Grand Prix II (GP2) wrapping up at Sydney International Regatta Centre over the weekend (8-10 February 2019).
Paddle Australia’s 2016 Rio Paralympians Curtis McGrath (QLD), Dylan Littlehales (NSW), Amanda Reynolds (VIC) and Susan Seipel (QLD) used the regatta as the first hit-out of the season to test their speed ahead of the 2019 Paddle Australia National Sprint Championships (6-10 March 2019). The National Sprint Championships will decide the domestic national team selection for both Olympic and Paralympic class paddlers to contest the international season and the 2019 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships that will decide the Tokyo 2020 quota places.
“This year is pretty important with the Olympic and Paralympic qualifying events happening at our World Championships in August and the GP2 was one of the events to see where we are at and see where we need to improve before we get to August,” Paralympic champion and eight-time World Champion Curtis McGrath explained.
“It was the first racing opportunity I’ve had this season and it was a great regatta to see where I am at. I wasn’t looking to break any records and wanted to just have a good hit out and see where I need to improve.”
“The para team has been going really well overall. Dylan (Littlehales) is stronger than ever and I have never seen AJ (Amanda Reynolds) as fit as she currently is. Susan (Seipel) has her eye on the prize and working hard to get back on to the podium. I would keep my eye on Dylan, he is getting stronger as he is maturing and becoming the fastest paracanoeist Australia has produced,” Curtis McGrath said about the current top paddlers on the team.
McGrath contested all Para Canoe Men’s K1 500m and 200m Open Multi-Class and Multi-Class Seeding events as well as the Para Canoe Men’s V1 200m. With limited competition in Australia it was racing against the watch in the V1, while there was a full field in the K1 200 and 500m with paddlers from different classifications racing in one event.
Paddle Australia’s youngster on the Paracanoe team and Rio 2016 Paralympian Dylan Littlehales took home the win in the Para Canoe Men’s K1 200m Open Multi-Class and finished second in the Para Canoe Men’s K1 200m Multi-Class Seeding event, which was won by Great Britain’s Tim Lodge.
Curtis McGrath finished second and third respectively in the K1 and while McGrath and Littlehales are competing in different para-classifications on the international level, they enjoy the ongoing competition between them on national level.
“This was a good way to kick-off the season and it’s been a bit of fun for the start of the season. Curtis and I have had a little rivalry since I began back in 2015. He pretty much won every race back then and I’m starting to get him now which is good. We are about the same speed and it’s good to watch and to be a part of,” Littlehales said.
19-year old Dylan Littlehales (NSW) won bronze in the men’s KL3 200 at the World Cup in May last year, finished the World Championships with a fifth placeand has his eyes set on the international KL3 200 podium for 2019: “Internationally, podium is the aim. I sit on a bronze at the moment, but I will be pushing to beat Serhij (Yemelianov, UKR) and Caio (Ribeiro de Carvalho, BRA) in that gold and silver medal spot so we’ll see how the season goes,” Littlehales said confidently.
Rio 2016 bronze medallist Susan Seipel and silver medallist Amanda Reynolds also had a full schedule of racing and made the most of the racing opportunity ahead of nationals in March.
“It was a great event and run really well so thanks to all the organisers and volunteers for that. I was happy with my races especially on Sunday as the conditions give more accurate times so you get a better idea of where you are at. Yesterday it was very challenging in the head wind especially in the V1 and the times were greatly affected. In paracanoe, we don’t have the numbers nationally at the moment, so you have to look at your times in your class compared to the rest of the world, which is also dependent on conditions,” Seipel said about the racing.
“It was good to see some new faces in the paracanoe men’s events, hopefully we will see more growth leading into Tokyo. I’m looking forward to working with the new Paracanoe coach and building on my results here for nationals. Paracanoe has a great team of support staff so I’m excited to continue working on every aspect,” Seipel added about the growing paracanoe squad.
The GP2 was the first event of the season for Paddle Australia’s new Paracanoe National Coach and Scottsman Shaun Caven, who recently joined the team following his work with USA Canoe and who was happy with what he saw at the GP2.
“It’s been great here in Australia so far. The weather has been fantastic and it’s been good settling in, getting to meet everyone and everybody has been friendly so far,” Caven said about his first couple of weeks in Australia.
“Everybody has been performing well at this regatta with good conditions, apart from a little bit of wind on Saturday. The GP2 was a bit of a paddle to get a line in the sand and I think everybody is where they need to be at right now and we’ll be aiming to improve their performances at nationals. We have nationals next month and then we head to Europe for World Cup 1 in Poznan, Poland, come back and then head back to Europe again for the World Championships in August, which will be super exciting,” Caven added about the GP2 and the season ahead.
The GP2 saw a growing field of paracanoe paddlers in the men’s events, with further development one of Caven’s aim over the next few months.
“Development is one of the things we will be focussing on to get more athletes to join the program and start more competition in Australia for our national team. We are looking to expand our base of paddlers, because the level of the four paddlers we have on the team is really high but we also need to develop athletes for the future.” Caven said about the development plans.
“There are some new eyes on us with the new coach, new technique, new styles and it’s nice to have that fresh look and we’re looking forward to the opportunities that Shaun can see in us and are looking forward to the qualifying events in August,” Curtis McGrath said about the new addition to the team.
“It’s also exciting for the future that there is a bit of a talent ID process happening in Australia right now. A number of para athletes have picked the paddle for the first time and we are pretty keen to see how that develops and grows for the focus of Tokyo and beyond.”
Paracanoeist have returned to their training base at the Gold Coast and will head over to Western Australia at the start of March to contest the 2019 Paddle Australia Canoe Sprint National Championships at Champions Lakes in Perth.
See all GP2 results here (searchable by athlete name & race): http://bit.ly/2019GP2results
Daily results summaries can be found here: https://sprint.paddle.org.au/results/
2019 Paracano National & International Season
- 6-10 March 2019, Canoe Sprint National Championships, Champion Lakes, WA (Selection Trials)
- 24-26 May 2019, ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1, Poznan, POL
- 21-25 August 2019, ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships, Szeged, HUN