Curtis McGrath Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Canoe Sprint

Curtis McGrath has defended his Rio 2016 Men's Kayak Single 200m KL2 gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. (Photo: Channel 7)

Curtis McGrath has defended his Rio 2016 gold medal in the canoe sprint at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics after setting a new Paralympic best time earlier in the semi-final.

Australia’s Curtis McGrath has won gold in the Men’s Kayak Single 200m KL2 Final A at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, setting a Paralympic best time along the way.

Coming into this race holding the Paralympic best time in the discipline following a gold medal won at Rio 2016 where he became Australia’s first para canoe gold medallist, McGrath’s path to the final was slightly different to five years ago.

In Rio, McGrath finished first in the heat to qualify for the Final however this year, in the second heat of the KL2 event on Day 9 of the Tokyo 2020 Games, he finished third in a time of 44.979 seconds. The result meant he was forced to compete in the semi-final for one of six remaining Final spots up for grabs.

The semi-final yielded a first-place finish for the 33-year-old, claiming a new Paralympic Best time of 41.134 seconds – an improvement of over a second on the previous best time, 42.190 seconds, set by McGrath in the Final at Rio.

In the Final, McGrath dominated the race from start to finish, leading from the front all the way to the end. The paddle from the Australian saw him maintain the same speed all throughout the race, eventually getting out to a lead of half a boat length with 50m to go.

McGrath won the race in a time of 41.426 seconds, beating his nearest competitor by 1.077 seconds. The time was also .0.292 seconds off the Paralympic best time he had achieved earlier in the day.

Mykola Syniuk of the Ukraine and Federico Mancarella of Italy won silver and bronze respectively, only 0.71 seconds separating the two.

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Born in New Zealand and currently residing in Queensland, McGrath first took up the sport in 2013 (and made his debut for Australia a year later) after losing his legs in a mine blast while serving in Afghanistan with the Australian Army.

Originally a Va’a canoeist, at the 2014 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships, McGrath won the 200m VL2 title in a World Record time. Upon learning the Rio 2016 Paralympics would only include kayak events, he began training for those events and working towards making good on a promise to himself to represent Australia at a Paralympic Games.

The decision paid off for McGrath who, since 2015, has won five KL2 medals – four gold medals and one silver – at the World Championships. Additionally, he has also won five gold medals in the VL2 or VL3 classes at the World Championships.

The Rio 2016 Closing Ceremony Australian flagbearer still has one more event to compete in at Tokyo 2020, the Men’s Va’a Single 200m KL3 Final on Day 11 – the Va’a discipline making its debut at the Paralympics this year.

McGrath will be hoping to make it two gold medals in two days after automatically advancing to the Final following a first-place finish in the first heat where he claimed another new Paralympic best time of 51.526 seconds.

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