Paralympians Ready for Paralympic Games Qualifier One Year Out From Tokyo 2020 

Paralympic and World Champion Curtis McGrath Spearheads Paracanoe Team at 2019 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships Szeged, Hungary (21-25 August 2019)

One year out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Australia’s best paracanoe paddlers will be lining up together with Australia’s Olympic canoe sprint hopefuls at the 2019 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in Szeged, Hungary this week.

All four Australian Rio 2016 paracanoe paddlers of Paralympic champion Curtis McGrath (QLD), Rio 2016 medallists Amanda Reynolds (VIC) and Susan Seipel (QLD) as well as Dylan Littlehales (NSW) have returned to the world championships team and will be aiming to secure a podium spot as well as Paralympic quota spots at this week’s world championships which also double up as a Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic qualification event.

Paralympic champion and eight-time World Champion Curtis McGrath took home double gold at last year’s World Championships in both the men’s kayak and canoe events. He will be aiming to do the same this year and aim to defend his world champion titles in both classes.

The world championships coincide with the one-year-to-go to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games celebrations which will be an extra motivation for the team to secure Australia the quota spots.

“Tokyo will be one year away on the 25th August so it does make the World Champs a little more significant. Having that milestone is a great motivator to perform at Worlds and get Australia qualified for some spots in the Games,” McGrath said.

While McGrath took home the win in the men’s kayak event in Rio, he will have the chance to go for two gold medals in Tokyo (KL2 and VL3) with the va’a (outrigger canoe) events added to both the men’s and women’s program for the 2020 Paralympic Games.

“I am hoping to get two gold medals but it is a year away and a lot can happen in one year so we will see. I am just keen to compete and get some quota spots for Australia and then we can focus on the next 12 months as we lead into the 2020 Paralympic Games. It’s an exciting time ahead,” McGrath added.

McGrath and the team have been preparing at the AIS European Training Centre in Italy over the last few weeks and are looking forward to the start of racing.

“Our preparations have been going well. The weather has been against us a little over the last week with storms and with wind making training challenging but my body is feeling good and I have some good speed. Hopefully it is all enough when I start racing,” McGrath said.

The World Championships will be the first international competition for McGrath this year with the 31-year old missing the World Cup for personal reasons to be able to focus on his wedding.

“The World Cup was very interesting for me. Being at home and watching the live feedback in Poznan, Poland was strange but great to be able to cheer on the Aussie Team from home. By not racing I had some itchiness, I wanted to be there racing too. But back home I had a wedding and focusing on some life events was a nice change,” McGrath explained.

After watching the world cup from afar, McGrath is expecting some hot racing in Szeged.

“There were some new faces in my races which should make for some great racing in Szeged. It is always hard to compare yourself to the international standard, our sport doesn’t really allow it unless all the best paddlers are in the same location racing the same race, so again Szeged will be hotly contended.”

Like McGrath, Paralympic bronze medallist Susan Seipel is also competing in two events and will have the chance to represent Australia at the Paralympic Games in both the women’s kayak (KL2) as well as outrigger canoe event (VL2).

Seipel is aiming to secure both quota spots as well as winning a medal in the two events this week.

“My main aim for Szeged is to qualify in both the KL2 and VL2 for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. And of course, I would also like to medal in both events. My classification has a very strong field with some of the fastest girls in the competition, and I expect Great Britain and Russia to be fighting for the podium in both the Kayak and Va’a events,” Seipel said.

Seipel finished just off the podium at last year’s world championships with a fourth place in the VL2 200 and a sixth place in the KL2 200. This season, she won silver in the VL2 canoeing event at the World Cup in May and finished fourth in the KL2.

She has made the most of the pre-world championships training camp at the AIS European training centre in Italy over the last few weeks and is confident about the tasks ahead.

“We have such a small para team now with only four athletes and each athlete in a different classification. Fortunately, this has enabled us to split up and train more as individuals. It is a luxury to have one-on-one coaching sessions and I think it has been extremely beneficial for me. I feel I have made some great progress working with our coach Shaun (Caven).”

“My training in the gym has also been going really well and I feel the strongest I have ever been,” Seipel said about her preparation under paracanoe head coach Shaun Caven, who joined Paddle Australia’s paracanoe program from the US at the end of last year.

The paracanoe team has been preparing in Italy together with the women’s kayak team, a fact Seipel thought very beneficial for the team as a whole.

“I think it is fantastic to see both Curt (McGrath) and Dylan (Littlehales) training with the senior women’s squad. This integration of para and able-bodied athletes doesn’t happen in a lot of sports so it is something to admire and they are both flying because of it.”

“Our team may be small but we are still one of the top nations. I expect everyone will do really well at Szeged, bring home some medals, and most importantly secure Australia spots for Tokyo,” Susan Seipel said about the team as a whole.

Rio Paralympian Dylan Littlehales has also seen a steep rise in his performance curve over the last couple of years with the 19-year old winning world cup bronze in the men’s KL3 200 last year and finishing fifth at the 2018 World Championships.

This year, Littlehales continued to be one of the most improved athletes on the Australian canoe sprint team, setting a new PB and cracking the 40 seconds mark at nationals earlier in the year. After finishing fourth at the ICF Paracanoe World Cup in Poznan in May and missing out of the medals by 0.07 seconds, Littlehales has his eyes set on the KL3 200 podium.

“I’m feeling faster than ever. Every year I’m learning something new, which is a great experience,” Littlehales said.

Rio 2016 silver medallist Amanda Reynolds finished last year’s world championships with a silver medal despite a disrupted preparation due to an ongoing wrist injury, but like the whole squad, Reynolds continued to make some big steps forward this season

While it is the second time around for Australia’ paracanoe paddlers to prepare for the Paralympic Games, the excitement as well as the 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,” Amanda Reynolds explained.

Tokyo 2020 will be the second time paracanoe is included in the Paralympic program after the sport premiered at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Recently, paracanoe was also confirmed for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

The paracanoe events kick off racing in Szeged on Wednesday (21 August) and will conclude on Saturday (24 August) with the Olympic class events wrapping up the world championships on Sunday.

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See the Australian Paddle Team paracanoe athlete profiles here:

2019 Australian Paracanoe Squad

  • Curtis McGrath (QLD | QAS | Varsity Lakes) – KL2 200 + VL3 200
  • Dylan Littlehales (NSW | NSWIS | Avoca Kayak Club) – KL3 200
  • Amanda Reynolds (VIC | VIS | Victorian Sprint Paddlers ) – KL3 200
  • Susan Seipel (QLD | QAS | Brisbane Canoe Club) – KL2 200 + VL2
Paracanoe – World Championships 2019 Paralympic Quota
MKL2 Curtis McGrath (QLD | QAS | Varsity Lakes Paddlers Club) 6
MKL3 Dylan Littlehales (NSW | NSWIS | Avoca Kayak Club) 6
VL3 Curtis McGrath (QLD | QAS | Varsity Lakes Paddlers Club) 6
WKL2 Susan Seipel (QLD | QAS | Brisbane Canoeing) 6
WKL3 Amanda Reynolds (VIC | VIS |

Victorian Sprint Paddlers Inc. )

VL2 Susan Seipel (QLD | QAS | Brisbane Canoeing) 6


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