New chapter opens up new opportunities for paracanoe athletes

Almost 90 athletes from more than 20 nations, among them competitors who have made their mark as top-class athletes in other fields, will line up for the ICF Paracanoe World Cup, starting Thursday in Szeged, Hungary.

The competition will herald the start of a new chapter for the sport, after the International Paralympic Committee recently approved the introduction of three new categories for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.

As a result, several of the biggest names in paracanoeing, including Australia’s Curtis McGrath and British pair Jeanette Chippington and Emma Wiggs, will this week compete in Va’a races – a form of outrigger canoe which will debut at the next Paralympics.

“It’s exciting that we’ve got another new event in there, and heading towards Tokyo it’s great to see that the sport of paracanoeing is growing,” McGrath said.

“I felt after Rio that I could have added another event, so I’m glad that V1 is in there. I would really like to be able to stand on the podium twice in Tokyo.”

The introduction of Va’a has presented athletes like Germany’s Peter Happ with an opportunity to compete at a Paralympics, almost 20 years after a motorcycle accident left him in a wheelchair.

“It’s a new thing, I like it on the water, but everything is new and we will see what happens,” Happ said.

“I hope to make the final, but I don’t know because it is a new class.”

Chile’s Robinson Mendez comes to paracanoe after two decades and four Paralympics as a tennis player. Szeged will be his first ICF World Cup.

“I was a tennis player for almost 20 years, and have been at four Paralympic Games – Athens, Beijing, London and Rio,” Mendez said.

After Rio I retired from tennis and came to canoeing. They have categories, so that is why I changed my sport. I have a few more chances to win a medal for my country.”

Germany’s Anja Adler is another who comes to paracanoe after excelling at a different sport. In Adler’s case, she was a top-class race walker, but broke her back in a 50-metre cave fall three years ago.

But even before she left the hospital she had decided on her next sporting challenge.

“In the hospital there was a physiotherapist who was a kayak trainer,” Adler said.

“He encouraged me to come and try. I went straight to the lake and tried kayak. From that time it was really good and I loved every minute on the water, and to be in the sport again was wonderful”

The 2018 ICF Paracanoe World Cup begins in Szeged on Thursday.

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