Paracanoe returns to the Paralympics for the second time with new events and new faces ready to challenge returning Paralympic champions. Tokyo 2020 will offer va’a boats for the first time in the men’s and women’s VL2 and men’s VL3 categories. Here are some athletes who paddle for the Paralympic podium:
Curtis McGrath (AUS)
Having lost both of his legs to an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in the Australian Army in Afghanistan in 2004, McGrath told his comrades he would one day be at the Paralympic Games. Fast forward to Rio 2016 and not only did he compete, but he won gold in the men’s KL2. He’s also undefeated in the World Championship 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 by winning five world titles.
Shakhnoza Mirzaeva (UZB)
The young newcomer burst onto the scene when she won silver at the 2017 Women’s KL3 World Championships behind Australian Paralympic champion Amanda Reynolds. Proving her medal was no fluke, she demonstrated her strength with World Cup victories in 2018 and 2019, and turned her silver to gold at the 2019 Worlds. But her biggest rival, Laura Sugar from Great Britain, has closely followed the 22-year-old in all events. Expect a close battle for the Paralympic podium in Tokyo.
© Bence Veksasy / ICF
Serhii Yemelianov (UKR)
Yemelianov was the surprise winner of the KL3 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and has since been unbeatable in all of his races. Three-time world champion, the Ukrainian completely cleared the pitch in his first major competition since the 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 in London 2012, before switching to paracanoe at Rio 2016 to win gold in the women’s KL2. Wiggs was unmatched in kayaking until 2018, when compatriot Charlotte Henshaw served the booty at the World Championships. But Wiggs has turned her attention to the va’a boats, where she is a three-time world champion and has the best chance of winning Paralympic gold.
Maryna Mazhula (UKR)
Mazhula entered the international scene after Rio 2016, but didn’t start making noise until two years later when she became the new KL1 world champion. She 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 stop Mazhula in her race to the top step of the Paralympic podium.
Peter Pal Kiss (HUN)
At only 16, the Hungarian surprised Italian world champion Esteban Farias by winning men’s gold in KL1 in front of his home crowd at the 2019 Szegad World Championships. Now 18, Kiss is the most recent talent. and the most anticipated in sport before Tokyo, where he will be the golden favorite. But Kiss has only played three ICF events in his career and will have to deal with the new pressure that awaits him in Tokyo.
Charlotte Henshaw (GBR)
Henshaw created quite a rivalry with compatriot Emma Wiggs in the women’s KL2. Henshaw transferred from para swimming after Rio 2016 to find quick success, winning gold at the last two world championships. Already in his fifth season in the sport, Henshaw has yet to keep his momentum to fend off the experienced Wiggs, who refuses to be struck off gold in Tokyo.
Luis Cardoso da Silva (BRA)
After the disappointment of missing out on the men’s KL1 medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Cardoso da Silva hopes to bounce back in the new VL2 event. He won his fourth gold medal on va’a at the 2019 World Championships and hopes to take the opportunity to compete in the discipline for the first time at a Paralympic Games.