Paracanoe Squad On Track For Tokyo 2020

Curtis McGrath, Dylan Littlehales, Susan Seipel and Amanda Reynolds to contest 2019 Paracanoe Season 

Paddle Australia has today announced the 2019 Paracanoe Squad with all 2016 Rio Paralympians making it back on to the team for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic qualification season.

Paralympic champion and eight-time World Champion Curtis McGrath (QLD) spearheads the four-strong team that also includes Paralympic silver medallist and 2018 World Championships silver medallist Amanda Reynolds (VIC), Paralympic bronze medallist Susan Seipel(QLD) as well as Paralympian Dylan Littlehales(NSW).

The squad impressed at last week’s canoe sprint nationals and selection trials at Champion Lakes in Perth with all paddlers winning their respective classification events as well as posting PBs.

“Racing at nationals was really good and we’ve had some really fast times despite the lack of the Freo doctor we hope for when we come to Perth. But it’s been good racing and I’m really happy with my times. I went a little bit faster than my world’s time in the 200 and so far, my 500 and 1000 times have been pretty good too,” Curtis McGrath said.

After taking home double gold at last year’s World Championships there was not any doubt that McGrath would make the team again, but every national team selection is still a special moment as Curtis McGrath describes.

“It’s awesome to represent your country, done the green and gold and represent Australia overseas. It’s always special to wear that uniform and be a proud athlete and to be selected on the squad is an honour and I think every athlete at the national championships is trying to get to that uniform. This year is pretty important with the Olympic and Paralympic qualifying events happening at our World Championships in August, so, it’s nice to get the results from the nationals and to finally looking forward to the qualifications at the World Championships.”

The 2019 ICF Paracanoe and Canoe Sprint World Championships in Szeged, Hungary at the end of August is the Paralympic and Olympic qualification event to secure quota spots for Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At the national championships in McGrath was pipped to the line a couple of times by the youngest member of the squad, with 19-year old Dylan Littlehales setting a new PB and cracking the 40 seconds mark in the KL3 200. While the pair is racing different classification events on the international level, they make the most of pushing each other on the national circuit.

“Little Dylan Littlehales is flying at the moment and he cracked out a sub-40 seconds in his 200 and he’s the one to beat at the moment in the para-squad for Australia. He’s starting to work hard in the gym and getting stronger and fitter and it’s nice to have someone to chase now. It’s good having that competition, that rivalry and it’s pushing me along,” McGrath said.

It was a great race for both of us. We’ve always been racing each other and it’s at the stage now where it’s really close and it’s great to have a little rivalry on the Australian team. That pushes me and it pushes him and everybody gets better,” Dylan Littlehales agreed

Dylan Littlehales won bronze in the men’s KL3 200 at the World Cup in May last year, finished the World Championships with a fifth place and has his eyes set on the international KL3 200 podium for 2019.

“I managed to get below the 40 sec mark and managed to get a 39.7 at nationals which is what I’ve been working towards for a long time now and with the help of Jake and Dane at NSWIS we’ve finally got there. Now I just have to get down to 38. 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 added about the goals ahead.

Paralympic silver medallist Susan Seipel (QLD) has also been going strongly, posting a PB in the KL2 500 at nationals and is happy with how preparations for the international season have been going.

“It’s been going really well and I got a PB in the 500 so I was happy with that. In my 200 I was one second off a PB in my kayak after a bit of headwind on that day, so I was pretty happy overall,” Susan Seipel said.

Seipel, who moved to the national training centre at the Gold Coast a year ago, credits her training circumstances for her progress.

“About 12 months ago I made the move to the Gold Coast and I think that’s made a huge difference in the fact that I can get out on the water a lot more and get to the gym a lot more than I could when was up in Brisbane, so I think that’s made a huge difference,” Seipel said.

“I put in a lot of work with Guy Power over the off season working on fitness and now we’ve had our new coach Shaun (Caven) come in and he’s been making some changes to my technique so it’s really exciting to see that work paying off and exciting to keep improving.”

And with Tokyo 2020 in mind she added, “It’s exciting to have the prospect to go to a second Paralympics, especially in Tokyo which is a country I have never been to and I think it will be a really awesome Paralympics and Olympics. This year we’ll have to qualify the boats and next year we get the team announcement and it’s all exciting again just like it was in Rio.”

Tokyo 2020 will be the second time Paracanoeing will be included in the Paralympic program with canoeing debuting at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

While it is the second time around for Paddle Australia’s paracanoe paddlers preparing for a Paralympic Games, the excitement as well as pressure never wears off.

“Every race I do I get nervous. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a club meet or nationals, there is that same anticipation. You put the shirt on and you and perform and you not only perform for yourself but you are also performing for your country and your team, your club so it goes all levels,” Rio 2016 silver medallist and last year’s World Championships silver medallist Amanda Reynolds described.

The Victorian, who now trains at the Gold Coast, has had an ongoing wrist injury to deal with in last year’s World Championships preparation, but like the whole squad made some big steps forward during the off-season.

“I’ve been so happy with my results at nationals and it’s all the hard work we’ve done over winter and it’s just come up really well,” Reynolds said about her strong performances and times in Perth.

“It is a bit frustrating to have to paddle in a brace, but we’ve learnt to adapt to it so, hence the ‘adaptables’. We’ve done a lot of base work in the winter just getting our strength back in our core work and everything else to take the loading off the wrist. Our coach Guy (Power) and I put in much work of getting our technique right and getting headspace back on the water and the boat is running beautifully so I can’t be happier than that,” Reynolds said about her training regime.

The national championships also saw an increase in paracanoe numbers with paracanoe development a focus of the team.

“It’s been nice that we’ve had a good turn-out for the para-squad, with numbers growth and everything moving along and we see some talent coming through,” Curtis McGrath said.

“It’s starting to get a bit of movement. We just need to continue to get it out there and let paras know to just have a go. If you fall in, you fall in and it’s ok. It’s more about the participation and fun of it and learning a new life skill. It teaches you patience and it’s with an awesome group of people so it’s really good,” Amanda Reynolds added.

Athletes will return to their home training location before continuing their preparation for the international season which starts with the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1 in Poznan, Poland at the end of May.

2019 Australian Paracanoe Squad

  • Curtis McGrath (QLD | QAS | Varsity Lakes) – KL2 200 + VL3 200
  • Dylan Littlehales (NSW | NSWIS | Avoca) – KL3 200
  • Amanda Reynolds (VIC | VIS | Victorian Sprint Paddlers ) – KL3 200
  • Susan Seipel (QLD, QAS, Brisbane Canoe Club) – KL2 200 + VL2

2019 Competition Schedule:

  1. 24-26 May 2019, ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1, Poznan, Poland
  2. 21-24 August 2019, ICF Paracanoe World Championships, Szeged, Hungary (2020 Paralympic Qualification – Event 1)