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Winning his first world championship was great to “tick off the list”, Dylan Littlehales says, but it would pale in comparison to achieving the ultimate success at his third Paralympic Games, in Paris in just over four months’ time.

Littlehales was one of three outstanding canoeists appointed by Paralympics Australia to the Australian Paralympic Team for Paris 2024 at a ceremony at Mermaid Waters in Queensland on Saturday.

He was joined by three-time Paralympic gold medallist Curtis McGrath, and Susan Seipel, who won bronze at Rio 2016 and silver at Tokyo 2020.

The launch was attended by Paralympics Australia President Alison Creagh, Paddle Australia President Andrew Trim and Australian Paralympic Team Chef de Mission Kate McLoughlin.

“It’s a great honour to formally welcome our first three athletes to the Australian Paralympic Team for Paris 2024,” McLoughlin said.

“Dylan, Susan and Curtis have proven themselves to be exceptional canoeists, wonderful team members and brilliant representatives for our country. I know they will give their absolute best when they get their chance at the spectacular Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium.

“I want to thank Paddle Australia for providing such great support and resources for the entire Para-canoe squad and we hope we will be able to add some more canoeists to the Paralympic Team after the World Championships next month.”

Seipel will compete in both boat categories, the kayak KL2 and va’a VL2 and said she would love to complete the full medal collection after winning the minor medals at the previous two Paralympics.

“I have the experience now, which is definitely beneficial,” she said.

“I am feeling good about this Games. The preparation this time has been a bit shorter after everything that happened with Tokyo. I think for me it’s been a good thing because I don’t actually like to take breaks. I like to keep going, it’s better for my body, so it’s been full-on, but good.”

Like Seipel, McGrath competed at Rio 2016, when Para-canoe was first included on the Games program. The former army combat engineer – who was injured in an explosion while serving in Afghanistan – won the KL2 and defended his title at Tokyo 2020 and then added gold in the VL3, which was contested at a Paralympics for first time.

“It’s a well experienced team so far,” McGrath said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what’s possible. We’ve been working really hard and can’t wait to represent Australia.

“The team launch – every gate we go through during the year – makes you feel like the Games is around the corner, makes it feel more and more real. Before we know it we’ll be walking down the Champs-Élysées. We’re so excited.”

For Littlehales, the Games can’t come soon enough. His first taste was as a 17-year-old in Rio and then, at Tokyo 2020, he missed out on the KL3 bronze medal by 0.012s. He finally reached the podium with world championship bronze in 2022 before becoming the KL3 gold medallist at Duisburg last year.

“I’m 24 now, so this Games and LA are the two peak Games for me physically – and this is the first Games I’ve come into as a world champion, which is a huge bonus,” Littlehales said.

“I was getting close for a couple of years, so to finally be able to tick it off the list and become No.1 the year leading into the Games is a big boost. I know I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”

Littlehales explained that world championships come around every year and often, after the Paralympics, the standard drops off as competitors recuperate.

“It means there are easier ways to win a world championship,” he said. “But the Paralympics is every four years and everyone is at their absolute best. A lot of athletes will only get a couple of chances at that throughout their career. To win one of those is definitely the pinnacle.”

By David Sygall, Paralympics Australia

Published: 13 April 2024