Australian Paracanoeists Focus on Paralympic Games in 2021 after Strong 2020 Season & Reflect on Current Situation
It has been a rollercoaster few weeks for Paddle Australia’s Rio 2016 Paralympians Curtis McGrath (QLD), Amanda Reynolds (VIC), Susan Seipel (QLD) and Dylan Littlehales (NSW) who were the stand-out paracanoeists at the recent Paddle Australia Canoe Sprint National Championships.
With their performances the team locked in their Paddle Australia 2020 team nominations and world championships team selections, while the Paralympic Games were postponed until next year.
“It was really nice to have all the boxes ticked at nationals. We have a good team and we were very happy about everyone’s performance this year,” Paralympic champion Curtis McGrath said.
With the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games now being postponed until next year and the 2020 Paracanoe World Championships in May in Germany expected to be re-scheduled as well, the goal posts have shifted extensively for the team.
Once it does go ahead though, the Va’as will premier at the Tokyo Paralympic Games giving McGrath who is a four-time world champion in the K1 and a six-time world champion in the Va’as, an opportunity to aim for double gold.
“With the way the world is going, we don’t know what is going to happen but I like to think that on the day we get there, I will be up there on the podium, hopefully on the top step but we never know what is going to happen,” McGrath said about the current uncertainties.
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Games have now been rescheduled to start on 24 August 2021 given athletes a bit more certainty in these unprecedented times.
“This is a bit more time to prepare and it’s nice to know when we are aiming for now,” Curtis McGrath took to Instagram following the joint announcement by the IOC, IPC and Tokyo 2020 on Tuesday.
Given the current environment, McGrath also stressed that there are far more important things to worry about though than the Games.
“I believe the decision to call-off the Paralympic Games for a year is definitely the right one because first and foremost the safety of everyone involved in the Paralympics, whether it be the athletes, the spectators, the staff, the volunteers should be the prioritisation in front of everyone’s mind,” McGrath said.
McGrath continues to train but admits that it is hard to focus given the current world events and with the Games now 509 days away.
“I’m still training because I’m not sure what to do yet and I really enjoy what I do, but it’s difficult as I’m not sure what I’m doing right now has purpose or focus and it’s been hard getting on the water each morning. But I feel by continuing of what I’m doing and training, I hopefully find a plan and find a solution in terms of motivation and focus and looking towards the future in a positive light.” McGrath reflected on the current situation in a video posted on his social media accounts.
“I’d like to think that we will get through this stronger and better than ever as a society and as an athlete. We are adherent to a bit of adversity but this is a serious knock and everyone is involved. I paddle a kayak and I can’t imagine the people that are directly affected by this COVID-19.
“So far, I’ve been healthy and have come through it alright but there are tens of thousands of people around the world and that’s heart breaking to see. I’d like to see the end soon, hopefully we can find a vaccine and as a society we can get back out on the water, start paddling again. I hope the Paralympic Games will be bigger and better than ever and shine a bright light on what is possible in the human endeavours of sport to achieve greatness,” McGrath added.
McGrath sentiment was echoed by Paralympic bronze medallist Susan Seipel, who said that she will “keep working towards my goal of the Tokyo Paralympics, whenever they will be held. But at the moment, it breaks my heart to see what is happening around the world due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
“What is happening right now is way bigger and more important than sport. So keeping everything in perspective really helps to reset. I was always planning to continue to paddle beyond Tokyo so I still have a lot of motivation to keep working hard and improve,” Seipel said about the current challenges and the new date for the Paralympic Games.
“I plan on continuing to paddle for fitness while following the government recommendations. Paddle Australia has been really supportive during this time and has helped to organise some equipment so I can also train at home. And first and foremost, we all must adapt our behaviours, look after each other, and fight this together,” Seipel added about the weeks ahead.
All of Paddle Australia’s Rio 2016 Paralympians have continued to improve over the 2019 international and 2020 domestic season with PBs across all events.
Seipel put in one of her best national seasons yet with strong racing in both the va’a and kayak.
“I was very happy with my consistency and performances over this domestic season. It is definitely a strange feeling to not have any international competitions to look forward to this year but with the extra time it’s a good opportunity to make changes to technique and really work on the basics,” Seipel said.
Paralympic silver medallist in the KL2 200, Amanda Reynolds, also continued to improve putting in impressive races in the K1 200 at both Oceania Champs and nationals this year, while team youngster and Rio Paralympian Dylan Littlehales showed one of the strongest improvements amongst Australia’s paracanoeists over the last four years setting a series of PBs over the last couple of months.
“I’m a little bit disappointed (about the postponement), but also a relieved because we now know the new date after not knowing what was going on for a few weeks,” Littlehales said about the postponement of the Games.
“I had a very good domestic season this year and got half a second PB. I would have liked to keep that momentum going into Tokyo but now that I know I can get to that level, I’m confident that I will be able to do it again in the coming months,” the 20-year old added.
Australia secured all four Paralympic quota spots at last year’s ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships with the new qualification system yet to be confirmed.
In regards to the quota spots, IPC President Andre Parsons said that “now that the dates are confirmed, the IPC will work with the International Federations to establish new qualification criteria which will fully respect those that have already qualified for the Games.”
The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games are scheduled to take place from 24 August to 5 September 2021.