Curtis McGrath paddles past poor start

Australian Para canoeist working to defend world titles 21 Jul 2018
Man in canoe pumps his fist after winning

Curtis McGrath defends his world title at the 2017 ICF Para Canoe World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic

By Louise Wood | For the IPC

"I'm stoked the V1 will be in Tokyo. It is great to see the sport of Para canoe growing and allowing more athletes into the Games. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the sport. "

Paralympic and world champion Curtis McGrath had a thrilling photo finish in May’s World Cup win, but the Australian knows the competition will be tighter one month from now at the Para Canoe World Championships in Montemar O Vehlo, Portugal.

McGrath was not pleased with his performances at that World Cup in Szeged, Hungary, and took away lessons needed to defend his world titles in the kayak and Va’a disciplines.

"I had a bad start which meant I had to come from behind and really dig deep to get the win," said McGrath, who won the men’s KL2 and VL2 events at the 2017 Worlds. "I have been working hard to fix the problems I had in that race and hopefully I get the chance to apply them in August at the World Championships."

The 30-year-old cannot afford another bad start in Montemar O Vehlo. In a race that only lasts around 40 seconds, there is no margin for error, especially with new athletes popping up after the sport’s Paralympic debut at Rio 2016.

"This year there are a few new faces on the podium like New Zealand's Scott Mertlew,” McGrath said. “He has come down a class from KL3 and he is very competitive. The other new face is Azizbek Abdulkhabibov of Uzbekistan, another really fast paddler. Scott really pushed me in our final (in Hungary) and he is definitely the one to watch."

McGrath also has different competitors to face in VL3, which he was reclassified to. Great Britain’s newly crowned European champion David Phillipson is one, as well as Uzbekistan’s Khaytmurot Sherkuziev, who finished second to McGrath in the VL3 race in Hungary.

Va’a, which uses a single-blade paddle compared to kayak’s double-blade, was added to the Paralympic programme for Tokyo 2020, giving many an extra motivation to excel in the discipline.

"The main difference is the paddle is so different so if you change sides in a race (like I do) you have to be very fast and confident, so it’s an area that is part of my warm up that I focus on," McGrath explained.

"I'm stoked the V1 will be in Tokyo,” he added. “It is great to see the sport of Para canoe growing and allowing more athletes into the Games. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the sport. "

Invictus incentive

The 2018 Para Canoe World Championships will run from 22-25 August. Afterwards, McGrath is looking forward to October’s Invictus Games in Sydney, Australia.

McGrath lost both his legs below the knees after stepping on an improvised explosive device during service in Afghanistan in 2012 and quickly thought about Para sports. He will serve as an ambassador for the multi-sport event for wounded service men.

"My role as an ambassador is to promote and tell people about the Games and how sport has helped me recover so well. It really is an honour to be given the opportunity to tell my story and watch so many people share their sporting achievements in front of their friends and families.

"I won’t be competing this year, it was time for me to put my head back down and look towards [the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics]. It also gives another worthy athlete the chance to gain the benefits of the Games for themselves, just as I have over the last four years."