As Serhii Yemelianov took time to reflect on Friday on his second Paralympic gold medal, he remembered back to 2015 when he was just starting out as a paracanoe athlete in Ukraine.

“Six years ago in 2015 it was really difficult, we didn’t have good facilities, but since 2019 and 2020 we have very good facilities,” the 28-year-old said.

The man with the trademark flowing beard need not look far for the reason facilities have improved dramatically for paracanoe athletes in his country. That increased investment corresponds with a period of time in which Serhii Yemelianov has not been beaten in an international men’s KL3 race.

Ukraine paracanoe is much more than the now two-time Paralympic gold medalist and multiple ICF world champion, but he has done more than most to put the sport on the map in his country.

Tomorrow he will once again dominate the Ukranian media coverage, after holding on to edge out Russia’s Leonid Krylov in he men’s KL3 final on Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway.

But it was close. Just point one of a second separated the pair, the closest anyone has come to toppling the Ukranian since before Rio 2016. Yemelianov was not surprised.

“it’s a difficult job, a big job,” he said.

“Five years is a long time and I’m very tired, I want a vacation.

“This was a close race because it is the Paralympic Games. It’s not the European or World championships or a world cup, this is much more difficult because it is the Paralympic Games.”

There are signs the field is closing fast. Great Britain's Rob Oliver took the bronze, just six weeks after his Paralympic preparations came to a screeching halt when he contracted Covid.

With his paracanoe still dripping wet Yemelianov is already thinking about his next challenge. He plans to contest the ICF world championships in Copenhagen later this month, but longer term its Paris 2020 which has his focus.

“It’s my dream to have four Paralympic gold medals,” Yemelianov said, which would push him through as a 35-year-old to LA 2028. He’ll need to square that off with the support base back in Ukraine, who have been rock solid supporters since the start.

“My family are my big supporters, they are always helping me – especially my wife and my mother and my nine year old daughter,” he said.

And as long as he keeps winning gold medals, he joked, his paddling career will continue to have their support.  

Pics by Dezso Vekassy

Ukraine Serhii Yemelianov paracanoe Tokyo Paralympics 2021

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