There were tentative celebrations among a handful of paracanoe athletes in Szeged on Thursday as the final qualifying places for this year’s Tokyo Paralympic Games began to take shape.

While final allocations will be subject to ratification by the ICF and the relevant national federations, several athletes look set to earn tickets to Tokyo after progressing through Thursday’s preliminary rounds.

The biggest surprise came in the men’s KL3, where New Zealand’s Corbin Hart, competing at his first international event, progressed through to Saturday’s final and looks almost certain to compete in Japan. It comes just 16 months after Hart lost his leg in an industrial accident.

“I only started paddling in August of last year, so it’s been a fast-track journey, it’s awesome,” Hart said.

“Going to Tokyo was a far-off dream, but it’s starting to feel a little bit real as the days go on. This has all been part of my journey, the whole thing’s been hard, losing a leg is hard, so I just need to carry on with all the things that have been hard.

“I get up with a purpose every day. I don’t dwell on the fact I lost my leg, in some respects I’m almost grateful that something like this happened, to shine a new light on life and give me another chance.”

Sweden’s Helene Ripa is a three-time Paralympian in three different sports, and on Thursday moved one race closer to a fourth Games by winning her way into the women’s KL3 final on Saturday.

Ripa, who will turn 50 on the eve of the Tokyo Games, said its been a tough journey to get this far.

“I had two tough years, so I’m very happy I had a good race today and I’m straight into the final,” Ripa said.

“It’s been hard, even if you take away the coronavirus. I had neck surgery in 2019, so I had to work hard to get back from that. Corona gave me an extra year, so that was good. But I worked hard to be ready for last year, maybe I went too hard, so I had to take a step back.

“I keep going because I want to be the best I can be, and I don’t think I’ve reached my full potential in canoe yet. I really want to give myself a chance to see what I can do.”

The ICF canoe sprint and paracanoe world cup and Olympic and Paralymic qualifiers continue in Szeged on Friday.

Pics by Bence Vekassy

Sweden Helene Ripa paracanoe Szeged 2021

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