Paralympians Set First Mark as Racing Gets Underway at 2020 Canoe Sprint Champs

Racing got underway on Wednesday at the 2020 Paddle Australia Canoe Sprint Championships at Sydney International Regatta Centre (SIRC) in Penrith with Paralympic Champion Curtis McGrath and Paralympic bronze medallist Susan Seipel provisionally locking away their first two events for Tokyo 2020.

135 days out from the start of the Tokyo 2020 Games, the event is doubling up as the final Olympic and Paralympic canoe sprint and paracanoe selection event and on Wednesday both McGrath and Seipel had to meet performance standards in the Va’a, the outrigger canoe.

Australia secured all four Paralympic quota at last year’s ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships and following the conclusion of the trials, Paddle Australia will nominate athletes to Paralympics Australia for selection for Tokyo 2020 with teams expected to be finalised over the next couple of weeks.

The Va’as, the paracanoe outrigger canoe events, will premiere at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and will give both Seipel and McGrath the opportunity to double up in two events in addition to their kayaking events, which will be raced at the nationals tomorrow (Thursday).

“National champs and also Paralympic selection are up this week and we just completed the V1 200, which will be a Paralympic event in Tokyo. So I ticked that box and I am really happy of how that went,” Curtis McGrath said, who is racing the VL3 class at the international level.

Curtis McGrath – Photo JGRImages

Curtis McGrath is a six-time world champion in the Va’as and with the class new on the Paralympic program for Tokyo 2020, he will have the chance to go for double gold come Tokyo.

“It’s about chipping away at the small improvement points over the last couple of years and trying to get a little bit faster. There’s only so much you can do until someone comes over the top but I will be trying to defend that world championship in the debuting event of the V1 200 event in Tokyo,” McGrath said, referring to the 2020 ICF Paracanoe World Championships to take place prior to Tokyo in Duisburg, Germany in May.

McGrath finished first in a time of 0:49.55 with newcomer to the class Mark Daniels (WA) finishing second.

On Thursday, the kayak events will be on the program for both the paracanoe men and women and with McGrath already having met selection criteria at the world champs and qualifying times this year, it will be more of a formality.

“The K1 200 para-event will be on tomorrow and will be more of a compliance sort of check, making sure I can still go pretty quick when required, but it’s always good to have a hit out with Dylan (Littlehales) and the other para athletes. We have a bit more of a larger field this time and it’s always nice to have more paddlers in there and see the sport growing,” McGrath said about tomorrows K1 race.

Paralympian Dylan Littlehales who races the KL3 on the international level, a different classification class than McGrath, who races the KL2 internationally, also impressed in the Olympic Open Men K1 200 event on Wednesday. Littlehales finished sixth in the heats and only 2.89 seconds behind the winner, while McGrath finished seventh and +4.11.

Dylan Littlehales – JGRImages

Like McGrath, Paralympian Susan Seipel also locked away her V1 200 spot on Wednesday and as the only female in the class nationally, she raced the men instead.

“It was nice to race with the men because I was the only female racing in the Vaa at this meet. It was a good race and I’m happy with my time,” Seipel said who finished in a time of 0:59.95.

Seipel, McGrath, Daniels – Photo JGRImages

Seipel, who is a triple world champion in the Va’a class and won silver in the VL2 200 at the 2019 ICF Paracanoe World Championships, is excited about the addition of the class to the Tokyo 2020 program.

“It’s exciting to race the Va’a because it is making its debut in Tokyo and I am lucky that I am still up in the medals at worlds, so I am hoping to get a medal in Tokyo in the Va’a which will be very exciting,” Seipel added about her Tokyo goals.

Susan Seipel – Photo JGRImages

The Paralympic bronze medallist in the KL2 will also aim to lock away the kayak spot tomorrow to be able to double up in both classes for Tokyo.

“There is not much competition nationally because we are all in different categories, classifications, so the goal will basically be to get a good time and then hopefully the team announcement won’t be far away so that it soon all becomes official,” Seipel said.

On Thursday, all 2016 Paralympians Curtis McGrath, Dylan Littlehales, Amanda Reynolds (VIC) and Susan Seipel will be in action in the kayaking events with the aim to lock in their Tokyo 2020 spots.

Racing also got underway in the Olympic events with the first national canoe sprint titles up for grabs and the first rounds of qualifying / heats on the program.

Tom Green (QLD) kicked-off the day where he had left off a couple of weeks ago when he won all his events at Oceania Champs and took home the win in the first heat of the men’s K1 1000. His K2 partner Jean van der Westhuyzen (QLD) also won his heat, with London Olympic Champion Murray Stewart (NSW) and Rio Olympian Jordan Wood (QLD) winning the other two heats. Semi-finals and finals in the men’s K1 1000 will be raced on Thursday.

Murray Stewart – JGRImages

Green and van der Westhuyzen also won the first heat of the men’s K2 1000 ahead of Rio Olympic medallist Lachlan Tame (NSW) and Murray Stewart. Rio Olympians Riley Fitzsimmons (NSW) and Jordan Wood took out the win in the men’s K2 1000 with the top three of the heats progressing straight through to Saturday’s final.

Wood & Fitzsimmons – JGRImages

In the women’s events, Rio Olympians Alyce Wood (QLD) and Alyssa Bull (QLD) continued their strong form in the first round of selections at the 2020 Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships (14-16 February) and won their heat to go straight through to the women’s K2 500 final on Thursday. Jaime Roberts (WA) and London Olympian Jo Brigden-Jones (NSW) won the second heat.

Australia’s top Olympic paddlers are vying for the six available quota spots in both the women’s and men’s kayaking events. Three spots are also available in the women’s (2) and men’s canoe events with athletes not only having to top the Australian ranks but also having to meet international performance standards.

Jaime Roberts & Jo Brigden Jones – JGR Images

On Wednesday, Queenslander Benjamin Manning tried to meet the international performance standards for Olympic selection in the men’s C1 and took out the win, but did not meet the required time.

While the 20-year old did not hold back on his disappointment, he already has his eyes set on U23 national team selection and Paris 2024.

“The conditions were not too bad, no wind to help but nothing to slow you down which is always nice. Olympic and under 23 selection were on the line and I was definitely aiming for both, so I had high goals but I did miss out of the Olympic qualifying time. It is a little bit disappointing but it was always far reach goal that I was aiming for, and 2024 has always been the real target, so this is just more experience than anything and I just have to wait and see. I’m still hoping for U23 selection though,” Manning said.

Ben Manning – Photo JGRImages
In the women’s canoe events Bernadette Wallace (SA) and Josephine Bulmer (SA), who secured the quota spots at Oceania champs, both won their heats in the women’s C1 200 and will have another chance to meet the international performance in tomorrow’s final. They will also have another chance in the women’s C2 500 on Friday.

In the under 18 and 16 events, Junior team selection as well as Olympic Hopes and Asia Pacific Team selection is on the line with New South Wales paddlers Fletcher Armstrong and Jarrah Sheppard setting an early mark and taking home the win in both the under 18 men’s K2 1000 and 200 and adding a win in the men’s K4 200 together with Pierre van der Westhuyzen (QLD) and Allen Ashby (NSW).

“It was good, to win the firs trace and it is always good to try and show people what we can do,” Armstrong said, who will be racing in all the K4, K2 and K1 events.

“It’s great to race here during the Olympic year and to watch the older boys in the Open events going for selections. It is so inspirational to see, just to see how they all do it and to see their preparation in the shed and their races,” Armstrong added.

Jarrah Sheppard & Fletcher Armstrong

In the under 16 events, 2019 Olympic Hopes team paddler Demi Bates (SA) successfully teamed up with Avoca Kayak Club paddler Natalia Drobot (NSW) to take out the wins in the women’s K2 500 and 200 events.

See all results here:

Racing continues at SIRC on Thursday, 12 March 2020 and will conclude on Sunday, 15 March 2020.

National titles as well as national team spots are for grabs across all age groups with the event the second round of trials following the 2020 Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships and Canoe Sprint GP2 at the start of February (14-16 February 2020).

Australia’s top Olympic paddlers are vying for the six available quota spots in both the women’s and men’s kayaking events. Three spots are also available in the women’s (2) and men’s canoe events with athletes not only having to top the Australian ranks but also having to meet international performance standards. In the paracanoe events, four quota spots will be available.

Over 240 athletes from all around the country are contesting the Paddle Australia Canoe Sprint championships with racing to start at 8 a.m. each day, 11-15 March 2020.

See racing schedule HERE

Demi Bates, Natalia Drobot – JGR Images

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