Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Sport week: Top moments in Para canoe

Plenty to remember from the sport’s Paralympic debut at Rio 2016 17 Mar 2020
two male Para canoeists side by side in their boats with one punching the air in celebration
The young sport is filled with thrilling memories

Para canoe is only a little more than a decade old but has risen in popularity after catching a huge wave at Rio 2016. Here are some of the sport’s top moments ahead of its second Paralympic Games in Tokyo:

1)    Canoe hits the big stage

Not long after Para canoe held its first exhibition event at the 2009 Canoe Sprint World Championships did it get confirmed as a Paralympic sport. In 2010 at an IPC Governing Board meeting, the sport was confirmed to join triathlon as the newest additions on the Games programme at Rio 2016. 

By the time Rio came around, 60 athletes were set to paddle over 200m in kayaks for the first Paralympic titles (three men’s and three women’s events).

2)    Curtis McGrath beats rival Markus Swoboda and goes on to become the face of the sport

Not many would have known how much that World Championship final on 19 May 2016 would set the tone for Para canoe’s future.

Austria’s Markus Swoboda had dominated his category the previous six years, but that day saw a new world champion in Australia’s Curtis McGrath. 

McGrath finished about a second ahead of his fierce rival in the 200m KL2 course. That set up McGrath for a victory in the sport’s Paralympic debut, and he went on to win the next three Worlds to become the face of Para canoe. 

Curtis McGrath beat Markus Swoboda at Rio 2016


3)    Serhii Yemelianov wins Paralympic gold to set off Ukrainian growth in the sport

The men’s KL3 final in Rio was a thriller with the top three less than a second apart. Ukraine’s Serhii Yemelianov took the top prize 0.0999 seconds over Germany’s Tom Kierey, followed by Brazil’s Caio de Carvalho. The former Ukrainian powerlifter has remained unstoppable in his class, winning the next three Worlds. But, it is not just him in Ukraine who is excelling in the sport.

His teammate Maryna Mazhula has been unbeatable in the women’s KL1 since 2017, clinching her third World Championship gold last year. 

4)    British women power at Rio

The British anthem was on repeat in the three women’s events at the sport’s first Paralympic Games. Jeanette Chippington (KL1), Emma Wiggs (KL2) and Anne Dickins (KL3) completed a British sweep to find themselves atop the podium at Rio 2016. 

Anne Dickens retired after winning Paralympic gold at Rio 2016


5)    Va’a categories added for Tokyo 2020 to expand programme and draw more interest

Spectators will get to enjoy more canoe action as it was announced on September 2017 that the sport would increase to nine medal events (up from six) at the 2020 Paralympic Games. This is due to the addition of va’a discipline, in which athlete paddle in a canoe with an outrigger. This has drawn more athletes at 90.