Paracanoe athletes run 200m to a finish line. But sport takes more than strength. It also includes advanced paddle and balance techniques, and of course endurance.
1. Canoeing, along with triathlon, made their Paralympic debut at Rio 2016 with 60 athletes competing in six events. Great Britain topped the medal table with five in total, including three gold medals for Emma Wiggs, Jeanette Chippington and Anne Dickins.
2. Athletes run the 200m in two types of boats, the kayak (K) and the va’a (V). The kayak is propelled by a two-bladed paddle, while the va’a is an outrigger canoe that has a second pontoon as a support float and uses a single-bladed paddle.
© Mike Trauner
3. Athletes who compete in paracanoe have lower body or core impairments. They are classified into three groups according to the impact of their handicap on their performance, and are specific to the boat on which they compete.
4. In kayak events, KL1 athletes have no leg function and limited trunk function, severe impairments in the lower body and sometimes need a special seat with a backrest in the boat. KL2 athletes are partially able to use their legs and core, and can sit upright in a kayak but may need a special backrest. The KL3s have a trunk function and can sit in a forward bent position, but have a partial leg function.
A slightly different method is applied to classify athletes in va’a events. Athletes in VL1 have no trunk or leg function. VL2 and VL3 athletes have trunk function, and additional assessments are conducted to specifically determine which class they should be in.
5. Boats used in canoeing are known as a “closed deck”, with an opening only where the athlete sits. Closed deck boats originating from the North Pole and Greenland, with a hole as small as possible to prevent the entry of cold water and ensure rapid recovery in the event of capsizing.
6. During the 2000s, the International Canoe Federation (ICF) intensified its efforts to include people with disabilities in its “Sports for All” program. In 2009, the ICF and the International Va’a Federation (IVF) inaugurated a development program for Paracanoe, which was previously called PaddleAbility, popular with paddlers and people with disabilities interested in sports at the global scale.
7. The first paracanoe show event was held in 2009 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, as part of the Sprint Canoe World Championships. Eleven nations participated in the showcase.
8. Only kayaking events were contested at Rio 2016. But Tokyo 2020 will host va’a boats for the first time, with athletes competing in three medal-winning events – two for men, one for women. In total, there will be nine medal-winning events at the 2020 Paralympic Games:
• KL1 200m (Men / Women)
• KL2 200m (Men / Women)
• KL3 200m (Men / Women)
• VL2 200m (Men / Women)
• VL3 200m (Men)
9. Athletes must keep their entire boat in the 5m wide central area of their lane from start to finish. The boat finished the race when its bow crossed the finish line with the athlete on board.
ten. In paracanoe, athletes may have certain adaptations for sitting in their boats. But no part of the athlete’s body can be attached to the boat in any way. This is especially important if the boat capsizes.