If there has been one consistent name in Para rowing, it is Pamela Relph. The Great Britain athlete made history at Rio 2016 by becoming the first rower to win two Paralympic gold medals, and her achievement enters the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2016 at No. 36.
“I didn’t realise until after we had won that I was the only athlete to have ever achieved two Paralympic golds,” Relph said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be the first Para rower to do it and I hope I can use the recognition to promote how awesome rowing is as a sport.”
The sport made its third Paralympic Games appearance at Rio, and the British legs, trunk and arms mixed cox four (LTAMix4+) boat has consistently medalled at every Games. At Rio 2016, they successfully defended their gold from four years ago, becoming the first LTAMix4+ boat to achieve back-to-back titles.
The only crew member returning from that London 2012 team was Relph.
“Winning in Rio was the culmination of four hard years of training. I felt like in London I was the newbie of the team whereas in Rio I was more experienced,” Relph said.
Even more, the 27-year-old has shown consistent success outside the Paralympic stage. Since taking on her first international competition in 2011, Relph has remained undefeated at major races. She has also helped the crew win three World Championships titles.
“With each win, the pressure increases,” Relph said. “In Rio I had been undefeated for 14 international competitions and hadn’t lost a race in nearly six years. It’s fair to say, the expectation to continue the streak was there and I think I would have been really disappointed with anything other than gold.”
Her consistency is just part of Great Britain’s overall dominance in the sport, as the nation medaled in all four events at Rio 2016, three being gold.
But 2016 also saw significant growth in Para rowing outside of Great Britain.
The Paralympic Games in Rio saw the debuts of South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe, with the latter securing their places via bipartite slots.
Kenyan Itaken Timoi Kipelian received one of the two slots available in the men’s single sculls. After rowing for several years and having participated in the World Rowing-Agitos Foundation Para rowing training camp for two years, Kipelian understands how challenging it is to find support in the country. But he hopes to help recruit more to the sport in his country.
The Zimbabwean LTAMix4+ is the first of its kind for the country, thanks to a project spearheaded by rowing coach, Rachel Davis. The crew was put together just three weeks before the final Paralympic Qualification Regatta, but Davis said it is a great step for the sport.
“People with disabilities don’t often have opportunities in Zimbabwe,” Davis said on WorldRowing.com. “I put a call out for those interested to come meet me at the school where I teach. The response was great and we were able to put together a four.”
A total of 96 Para rowers over 26 countries took part at Rio 2016, which was an increase from London 2012 that saw 23 nations.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2016, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.