All four Australian Paralympians were in action on day one of the para-canoe competition at the Tokyo Paralympics, with all four set to progress to the next stage.
Dual Paralympian Susan Seipel was the first Aussie on the water, asserting her dominance in her pet event, the V1, and powering straight through to the A Final.
Seipel also raced in the women’s kayak event, securing a spot in the semi finals, crossing the line in a time of 1:00.077.
The 35-year-old was pleased with her performance, relishing the opportunity to be back racing internationally after two years.
“It was good to be out there on the water and racing again after such a long time. I was happy with my races,” said Seipel.
“I will definitely do all the recovery strategies that we have practised and rest up and tomorrow [Friday] I just have the V finals.
“I have been doing Va’a since I started so it is great that it is finally in the Paralympic program and I hope that it is received well and we can get some exciting races in,” she said.
Reigning Paralympic champion Curtis McGrath also doubled up today, racing in both the kayak and Va’a boats.
McGrath got off to a troubled start in the kayak, encountering some rudder issues, before redeeming himself in the Va’a – crossing the line first and booking a spot straight through to the A Final.
“First race I had a bit of an issue and couldn’t really keep it straight in the middle of my lane, so I decided it wasn’t worth winning the heat and then getting disqualified, and knew it would be better to just ease off and go through to the semi final tomorrow [Friday]. Glad it happened in that race and not the final,” said McGrath.
“In the VL3, again, a bit of an issue staying the centre of my lane, kinda ran into the blocks at the end there, but that’s past the finish line and… that’s out of play.
“For us in Australia we haven’t had the chance to get out and race overseas in a long time, so to have another race tomorrow [Friday] is almost a bonus. I would have liked to have won the heat and gone straight through to the final, but it just wasn’t to be today,” he said.
Wet and cold conditions greeted competitors on the opening day of the para-canoe competition, but McGrath believes that it helped the Aussies on the water.
“We’ve been training back home in Australia in winter and conditions are more like this, so it’s not much different. We’ve had a few days like this. We’re lucky that as much as we’ve acclimatised to the heat here in Japan, this is more our jam at this time of year.”
Dylan Littlehales, the youngest member of the team, also made his way through to the men’s kayak semi finals, finishing in a comfortable second position in the KL3 heats.
“It was a good start to the competition – I missed my second and third stroke which wasn’t ideal, but got the boat up okay. I’ll be watching the race back, and going through the data, there are a few things I can work on so I’m feeling confident heading into the semis tomorrow.
“For the last few months I’ve been practicing my second race of the day, and that’s always been quicker than my first race, which is hopefully what will happen in the semi and final tomorrow.
“There were a lot of nerves on that heat start line, so coming into my first race since 2019 the nerves were definitely there, there’s no hiding that.
“The semi final just gives me an extra opportunity to have another race run through, and have an extra go at it,” he said.
Dual Paralympian AJ Jennings was also pleased with her performance in her first international race in almost two years, finishing her heat in a time of 55.961.
“I think most of it is just to be focused and we spoke earlier about picking our races and knowing what to do and following our plan. Not getting caught up in the moment with other races and just take each race at a time and see what the conditions are,” said Jennings.
Seipel, McGrath and Littlehales will return to Sea Forest Waterway tomorrow for men’s kayak and women’s Va’a semi finals and finals. Jennings will be back in action on Saturday in the women’s kayak semi finals.
Friday 3 September
10:58am – KL2* Men’s Semi Final, Curtis McGrath
11:19am – KL3** Men’s Semi Final, Dylan Littlehales
12:02pm – VL2 Women’s Final, Susan Seipel
*12:18pm – KL2 Men’s Final
**12:44pm – KL3 Men’s Final