Australian para-canoeist Curtis McGrath has won his second gold medal of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games with a first-place finish in the Men’s Va’a Single 200m VL3.
McGrath won gold in the Men’s Kayak Single 200m KL2 on Day 10 of Tokyo 2020 where he set a new Paralympic best time in the semi-final of the event and has now made it two from two at this year’s Games, this time winning gold in the Va’a discipline.
The 33-year-old’s path to the Final was made possible by a personal best paddle in the heat, a first-place finish with a time of 51.526 seconds – a full second in front of his nearest opponent – ensuring automatic qualification.
Coming into today’s Final, McGrath was a frontrunner to take home gold, as was Great Britain’s Stuart Wood who had set a Paralympic best time of 50.004 seconds in the semi-final.
Coming out of the gates in the Final, McGrath suffered a somewhat slow start but quickly regained his composure to ensure he didn’t fall too far behind.
Throughout the first 50m, the Australian found a pace that worked and before too long was right at the front of the pack though it was a close back-and-forth tussle to determine each competitor’s true positions.
Wood got out to a quarter boat length lead just under a third of the way into the race but by the midway point, McGrath and Brazil’s Giovane Vieira de Paula were closing the gap.
Picking up pace with strong strokes and alternating the sides of the vessel he was paddling on, McGrath maintained a fast speed which saw him catch up to and become nose-to-nose with the leading Wood.
Evident he was putting in a lot of effort, McGrath’s heavy strokes were the catalyst to finally power ahead of the field, still giving it his all, determined to cross the finish line first.
The Queenslander started powering away in the final 50m of the race, gaining a lead of a half boat length before crossing the finish line in a time of 50.537 seconds – an improvement on his heat result and 0.533 seconds from the Paralympic best time.
McGrath completed the race a full boat length – and 1.611 seconds – in front of silver medallist Vieira de Paula while Wood finished third to claim a bronze medal.
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Tokyo 2020 was the first year that the Va’a discipline was contested at a Paralympic Games. For McGrath, it was a discipline that he originally participated and trained in when he first took up para-canoeing in 2013.
From 2014 (when he first represented Australia) to 2019, McGrath won six consecutive gold medals at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships throughout the V-1 TA, VL2 and VL3 classifications.
Additionally, McGrath chose to begin training in Kayak events in 2015 after learning of the International Paralympic Committee’s decision not to run Va’a events at Rio 2016.
For someone who dreamt of representing his country at a Paralympics, the decision to focus on a new discipline worked well for McGrath on a results level, and in keeping that promise to himself.
He made an immediate impact in the kayak at the World Championships, winning four gold medals and one silver from 2016 to 2019, as well as setting the standard at the Paralympic Games with back-to-back KL2 gold medals from Rio – Australia’s first para-canoe gold medal – and Tokyo.
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