Australia’s Paralympic paddlers will be lining up at the start line in Poznań, Poland, this week when the first ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup of the season gets underway on Thursday (23 May).

With the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games just over a year away, it will be the opening World Cup for the Paralympic qualification season. Australia will be represented by Paralympians AJ Reynolds (VIC), Susan Seipel (QLD) and Dylan Littlehales (NSW).

Paralympic gold medallist and multiple world champion Curt McGrath (QLD) will not be in action, but is set to compete at the 2019 ICF Para-canoe World Championships in Szeged, Hungary, in August.

“As much as I love racing, I am not competing at the Para-canoe World Cup this year as I am getting married in very early June and anyone who has planned a wedding before knows how much work it is,” McGrath said.

“I knew going into this year that was going to happen and I have had a different focus on my training than the rest of my team. They have geared up for speed and racing, while I have continued to work on endurance and fitness. Once the team gets back from the World Cup, we will all be looking to work on our fitness and aligning our training so we are all at the same level as we prepare for the World Championships in August,” he said.

While McGrath will not be in Europe, he has followed the team’s progress closely and is predicting some podium results.

“AJ, Susan and Dylan will be out there representing Australia very well. The team has prepared well and if current form is anything to go by, I can see Dylan being on that podium in Poznań. AJ and Susan both have worked hard to manage injuries and training commitments and should be on the podium, and if not, very, very close to it. I wish the team the best of luck and I will be watching the live feed on the weekend.”

Reynolds, a silver medallist from the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and five-time World Championships medallist, battled injury in the lead-up to the 2018 ICF Para-canoe World Championships, but is hoping to return to the top of the podium this season after previously winning world titles in 2015 and 2017. She will be aiming to take advantage of the absence of the 2019 world champion in the women’s 200m KL3, Helene Ripa (SWE).

“I’m looking forward to racing this week and I’m sure it will be a great hit-out as there will be a few new faces added to the mix as we get closer to Tokyo,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds and the rest of the squad have been preparing for the World Cup at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) European Training Centre (ETC) in Gavirate, Italy.

“Training is tracking along but the weather has been a bit chillier to what we are used to, as this is the first time we have been at the ETC before the World Cup. It’s such a privilege, though, to have the opportunity to train in this environment. The ETC staff are amazing and it allows us to prepare and stay focussed,” she said.

“The AIS ETC has been excellent as usual,” added Seipel, who will contest the women’s 200m KL2 and women’s 200m VL2. “It’s a great place to prepare for the World Cup and it is truly our home away from home, with the staff going above and beyond to make sure we have what we need to train at our best.

“The training has been going really well here in Italy and we had some perfect water conditions in between windy and rainy days, but now I’m looking forward to the competition in Poland.”

Littlehales, the youngest member of the team, is also excited to start the international season and continue where he left off when he made his first World Cup podium last year. With a good preparation under his belt, including personal bests at this year’s Canoe Sprint National Championships in Champion Lakes, WA, things are looking promising for the 19-year-old.

But it won’t be easy. Littlehales will be up against Ukraine’s Serhii Yemelianov, who has been unbeatable in the men’s 200m KL3 since winning gold in Rio, and the reigning silver and bronze medallists from last year’s World Championships, Caio Carvalho (BRA) and Leonid Krylov (RUS).

“I’m excited to get the first international racing of the year underway, against – I believe – all the top nations, who will be represented in Poznań,” Littlehales said.

“Our World Cup prep has been going really well and I’m very happy with the work I’ve been doing over the past few months with our Para-canoe squad, as well as with team NSWIS [NSW Institute of Sport]. Hopefully that work will pay off with another podium finish this year.”

The ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup begins in Poznań, Poland, on Thursday (May 23). Results and links to the livestream will be posted here.

By Paddle Australia
Posted: 21/05/2019