Para canoe returns for the second time at the Paralympic Games with new events and new faces ready to challenge returning Paralympic champions. Tokyo 2020 will feature va’a boats for the first time in men and women’s VL2 and men’s VL3 categories. Here are just a few athletes paddling for the Paralympic podium:
Curtis McGrath (AUS)
Having lost both his legs to an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in the Australian army in Afghanistan in 2004, McGrath told his fellow soldiers he would be at the Paralympics one day. Fast forward to Rio 2016 and not only did he compete, he won gold in the men’s KL2. He has also been undefeated at the event at the World Championship stage since 2016 with four titles. And with Tokyo in his sights, he will be looking to defend his KL2 title and win gold in the newly added VL3, which he has proven himself by winning with five world titles.
Shakhnoza Mirzaeva (UZB)
The young newcomer burst into the scenes when she won silver at the 2017 World Championships in the women’s KL3 behind Australian Paralympic champion Amanda Reynolds. Proving her medal was no fluke, she showcased her strength with World Cup victories in 2018 and 2019, and upgraded her silver to gold at the 2019 Worlds. But her biggest rival, Laura Sugar of Great Britain, has been tailing the 22-year-old closely in all events. Expect a tight battle for the Paralympic podium in Tokyo.
Serhii Yemelianov (UKR)
Yemelianov was the surprise KL3 winner at the Rio 2016 Paralympics and has since been unbeatable in all his races. A three-time world champion, the Ukrainian completely obliterated the field at his first major competition since COVID-19 hit at the 2021 World Cup in Szeged, Hungary. But his real test will be in Tokyo.
Emma Wiggs (GBR)
Tokyo 2020 will be Wiggs’ third Paralympic Games. She competed in sitting volleyball at London 2012, before switching to Para canoe at Rio 2016 to take gold in the women’s KL2. Wiggs had been unmatched on the kayak until 2018 when compatriot Charlotte Henshaw served spoils at the World Championships. But Wiggs has diverted her attention to the va’a boats, where she is a three-time world champion and has the strongest chance of winning Paralympic gold.
Maryna Mazhula (UKR)
Mazhula entered the international stage after Rio 2016 but only began making noise two years after when she became the new KL1 world champion. She has progressed quickly, paddling faster on the water with her Paralympic debut in sight. The two-time world champion is part of a strong Ukrainian club that has shown its strength on the kayak, and nothing seems to be stopping Mazhula on her course to the top of the Paralympic podium.
Peter Pal Kiss (HUN)
Aged just 16, the Hungarian surprised Italian world champion Esteban Farias to win the men’s KL1 gold in front of a home crowd at the Szegad 2019 World Championships. Now 18, Kiss is the newest and most anticipated talent in the sport heading into Tokyo, where he will be the golden favourite. But Kiss has only competed in three ICF events in his career and will have to handle the new pressure awaiting him in Tokyo.
Charlotte Henshaw (GBR)
Henshaw has created quite a rivalry with fellow Brit Emma Wiggs in the women’s KL2. Henshaw transferred from Para swimming after Rio 2016 only to find quick success, winning gold at the past two World Championships. Already in her fifth season in the sport, Henshaw still needs to keep her momentum to fend off the experienced Wiggs, who refuses to be written off on gold in Tokyo.
Luis Cardoso da Silva (BRA)
After the disappointment of missing out on the medals in the men’s KL1 at his home Paralympic Games at Rio 2016, Cardoso da Silva will hope to bounce back in the newly added VL2 event. He won his fourth gold on the va’a at the 2019 World Championships and will hope to take advantage of the opportunity to compete in the discipline for the first time at a Paralympics.