Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Dominant performance sees Birgit Skarstein claim elusive Paralympic gold in Tokyo

Norwegian left behind the dissapointment from Rio 2016, where she just missed the podium, to secure a much-celebrated Tokyo 2020 title 29 Aug 2021
Female rower on her boat celebrates gold medal
TASTE OF SUCCESS: Birgit Skarstein celebrates with the women's single sculls gold at Tokyo 2020
By Ruth Faulkner I For the IPC

The last day of Para rowing finished off competition at Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway on 29 August, with 25 National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) represented and 48 crews competing over three days.

The first medal went to Norway's Birgit Skarstein of Norway with gold in the women’s single sculls PR1. She started strong and stuck it out for the 2000m course distance, the first time that distance has been competed at a Paralympic Games.

"Our strategy for the race was to go really hard from the beginning, and kind of scare everybody off (laughs). And really put on a statement that we wanted to go fast and race," said Skarstein, who just missed the podium at Rio 2016, finishing fourth.

"Johan (Flodin, coach) asked me to go ‘Die Hard’. Really tough. That was the strategy," she laughed.

Skarstein, also a competitive cross-country skier, participated in the two latest editions of the Winter Paralympics. A seventh place in the women's 5km at PyeongChang 2018 was her best performance on the snow.

The silver went to Israel’s Moran Samuel with bronze to Nathalie Benoit of France, who was back in the water after a seven-year break from the sport between 2012 and 2019. "My main emotion was relief. You prepare for everything, but this was the only position that was really accessible to me. The first two places were reserved for Birgit and Moran, who are really on top,” she said.

In the men’s single sculls PR1, Ukraine’s Roman Polianskyi took gold ahead of Australia’s Erik Horrie and Brazil’s Rene Campos Pereira with silver and bronze respectively.

Polianskyi, who won gold at Rio 2016, said this race was still tough despite him going into it the favourite. "All the races, I repeat, all the races, are difficult."

Great Britain made it a double gold with Rio 2016 champions Laurence Whiteley and Lauren Rowles winning the mixed double sculls PR2 and the mixed coxed four PR3 crew of Ellen Buttrick, Giedre Rakauskaite, James Fox and Oliver Stanhope taking the second gold.

Whiteley and Rowles, who finished with a time of 8:38.99, were behind other crews in the start, causing the many Brits watching to worry. 

"It's not about who leads the first 1,500m, who leads to the 1,900m, it's about who came through first and that was always going to be us. We just kept building in pace and to the 500 people who were probably getting a bit nervous at home, sorry for getting everyone's nerves up," Rowles said.

Great Britain was the strong favourite, with a rich legacy in the boat.

"That's 11 years unbeaten now for us," said James Fox, who took home gold from Rio 2016 in the mixed coxed four legs, trunk and arms.

"We're incredibly tough on ourselves, we're always pushing the standard. People often talk about complacency with us, it's just not an option for us. That's part of the reason why we can go out and do pieces like that. We're just so happy to be part of this."

Netherlands took silver and China bronze in mixed double sculls PR2, while USA and France followed the Brits for silver and bronze respectively in the mixed coxed four PR3.