Para-rowing made its Paralympic debut in Beijing 2008. But this time at Tokyo 2020, the rowers will run 2,000m, twice the distance of previous Paralympic regattas. Here are 10 names to remember for this summer’s contest:
Birgit Skarstein (NOR)
The two-time Paralympian is the current world champion in the women’s single scull (PR1W1x) and continues to hold the best world times with a record of 10: 13.63, which she set at the 2018 World Championships. hasn’t lost a regatta since finishing fourth at the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Skarstein is also a world-class cross-country skier, serving as Norway’s flag bearer at the 2018 Paralympic Games. A staunch advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, Skarstein showed she is a triple threat by blowing audiences away during her tour on the Norwegian version of “Dancing With the Stars” (Skal Vi Danse).
Erik Horrie (AUS)
The five-time world champion is particularly one to watch in the sport for his history – and the feat he hopes to accomplish in Tokyo. After finishing second at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games, Horrie is certainly in the race with a chip on his shoulder. He will have to get rid of the sworn enemy Roman Polianskyi, who upset him in Rio. But he beat the Paralympic champion at the 2017 and 2018 Worlds, and hopes to repeat that on the Paralympic stage in the men’s single scull (PR1M1x).
Horrie, or “Egg,” as his friends call him, was named the World Rowing Para Rower of the Year in 2014, amid a streak of five world titles in six years. Prior to his rowing career, Horrie was on the Australian national wheelchair basketball team.
© Rowing Australia
Nathalie Benoit (FRA)
Benoit has been in the para-rowing scene for some time and will try to give Skarstein a run for his gold medal in the PR1W1x. World champion in 2010, Benoit settled for silver at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. After taking time to achieve other dreams, like finishing the New York Marathon and paddling from Paris to Marseille, Benoit returned to the sport to win a European Championship title in 2020.
Among the few athletes with multiple sclerosis, she is one of the pioneers of para-rowing and is on the hunt for another Tokyo first – a Paralympic gold medal.
Roman Polianskyi (UKR)
There may not be a rower in the Paralympic regatta in better shape than Polianskyi. The Ukrainian caught the world’s attention with then-stunning world champion Erik Horrie for the PR1M1x gold medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games. Both have been there since then, with Horrie winning gold. at the 2017 and 2018 World Championships and Polianskyi winning it in 2019.
Polianskyi looked sharp at the European Championships in April, edging his closest competitor by almost 12 seconds. Originally from Ukraine’s Donetsk region, Polianskyi was internally displaced due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. He lives in Odessa and trains from Dnipro.
Koning Horn (NED)
The Dutchman is world champion in both the single scull (PR2M1x) and the mixed single scull (PR2Mix2x), but in Tokyo he will only aim for the top step of the podium in the PR2Mix2x. He has set up one of the great partnerships of para-rowing alongside doubles partner Annika van der Meer. The duo have been virtually unbeatable since 2017, winning every World Championship and every World Cup race until British duo Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley return to the 2019 World Championships.
Koning and Van der Meer teamed up soon after de Koning missed the 2016 Paralympic podium by less than two seconds. A smashing success from the start, their scorching 8: 06.21 pace at the 2017 Rowing World Cup II regatta in Poland remains the best in the world.
Koning’s horn (left) and
Annika van der Meer © Getty
Lauren Rowles (GBR)
Together with partner Laurence Whiteley, the pair won Paralympic gold in mixed pairs at the 2016 Paralympic Games – just a year after Rowles started playing the sport.
The dynamic duo continue to impress in the PR2Mix2x, adding a World Championship to their collection in 2019 and a European Championship in April – nearly 10 seconds ahead of the Dutch quadruple World Champion team of Koning Horn. and Annika Van Der Meer. This is not good news for her competitors, as at only 23 years old Rowles still has a lot of competition in her.
Laurens Rowles (on the back) and Laurence Whiteley © Getty
Michel Gomes Pessanha (BRA)
If there’s one team that can end the medal drought for the Americas in para-rowing, it’s Brazil’s mixed-pair two-team – Michel Pessanha and Josiane Loma. They hope to improve on the bronze Loma won for Brazil in the same event in Beijing 2008.
Pessanha is no stranger to regatta, having placed on or near the podium at almost every world championship since 2014. Always trying to beat the bronze he won at the 2014 world championships, Pessanha and Loma represent Brazil’s best chance of winning a para-rowing medal in Tokyo. .
Josiane Lima and Michel Pessanha © Marcio Rodrigues / MPIX / CPB
Blake Haxton (United States)
Haxton has been a rowing star for much of his life. Captain of his high school rowing team and about to join college on a rowing scholarship, Haxton lost his legs – and almost his life – to a rare and aggressive carnivorous disease. He switched to para-rowing a few years later.
Haxton quickly made it to the US National Team and nearly clinched a medal in the PR1M1x at his first world championships in 2014, where he finished fourth. He had the same result at Rio 2016, but at Tokyo 2020, Haxton will be hungry to break that streak and reach the podium.
James Fox (GBR)
Great Britain has dominated the coxed coxswain since 2012, winning gold at all Paralympics and World Championships. Fox, who has rowed for Great Britain since he was a junior, has been a mainstay of the British crew and the key to their success.
Fox will look to add a second Paralympic gold to their five world championships when Great Britain is aiming for a third straight gold in the event. One of the real greats of the sport, Fox has not yet lost a race at the Worlds or the Paralympics. At just 29, he rowed for almost two decades, competing for Great Britain in the Youth Cup (able-bodied) as a junior before switching to para-rowing after a car crash.
© Nick Middleton
Greta Muti (ITA)
Few athletes were better positioned to deal with the postponement of the 2020 Paralympic Games than Muti, a medical student from a family of doctors. Anchor for the Italian team PR3Mix4 + which won bronze at the 2019 World Championships, she helped study the COVID-19 virus while training at home during quarantine.
A true citizen of the world, Muti was educated in North America and Germany before returning to Italy for college. Apart from elite rowing, she plays the cello and sings the opera. She plans to use her medical training and experience in high performance sports competitions to provide opportunities for people with disabilities to achieve high performance in sports and music.
© PNJ Italy