McGrath adds another gold to his growing collection

Australia’s Curtis McGrath added another World Championship gold medal to his collection in Racice on Saturday, winning the VL2 final to give him a sixth career world title.

Several Australians were in action in A finals, including Rio Olympians Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull, who finished seventh in the K2 500.

2012 Olympian Jo Brigden-Jones finished ninth in the K1 500, Cat McArthur and Jaime Roberts eighth in the K2 1000, and Simon McTavish and Jayden Ellis were ninth in the K2 500.

In paracanoe events, Dylan Littlehales was fifth in the KL3 men’s final, while Jocelyn Neumueller was seventh in the KL1 final.

McGrath continued his rivalry with Austria’s Markus Swoboda in the VL2, eventually finishing more than one second ahead.

“A lot of work goes into getting to these events, and to get on top of the podium,” McGrath said.

“I didn’t feel like it was my best race today, but I managed to pull through and get the win, so I’m pretty happy about that.”

McGrath will now head back to Australia for a fortnight, before travelling to Toronto, Canada, to compete at the Invictus Games.

Big day for Australia at Canoe and Paracanoe Sprint World Championships

Australia will have seven boats competing for gold medals on Saturday at the ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in Racice, for most of them the biggest race of their career so far.

Olympians Alyssa Bull and Alyce Burnett in the K2 500, and Jo Brigden-Jones in the K1 500, have experienced competition at the highest level before, but newcomers like Simon McTavish and Jayden Ellis in the K2 500 are getting their first shot at World Championship glory.

Paralympic gold medallist Curtis McGrath will get a chance to add a second Racice gold medal to his collection in the VL2, while Rio teammates Jocelyn Neumueller and Dylan Littlehales will also be competing for gold in the KL1 and KL3 respectively.

Cat McArthur and Jaime Roberts will be in the final of the women’s K2 1000.

There will be more chances for medals on Sunday, after several strong performances from Australians on Friday.

Alyce Burnett started strongly and withstood a challenge from Hungary’s Dora Bodonyi to win her heat of the K1 1000, while the K4 1000 crew of Riley Fitzsimmons, Ken Wallace, Murray Stewart and Jordan Wood finished second in their heat and qualified straight into the final.

Several other athletes will have semi-finals on Saturday afternoon ahead of their finals on Sunday.

Australia’s golden day at Paracanoe World Championships

Australia has made a clean sweep of all three Paracanoe gold medals on offer on the second day of the ICF 2017 Sprint Canoe World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic.

Among the winners was 2017 Paralympics gold medallist, Curtis McGrath, five years to the day from when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan and lost both his legs.

Rio silver medallist, Amanda Reynolds, and Rio bronze medallist, Susan Seipel, were Australia’s other winners in perfect racing conditions.

“There’s a bit of significance, but it’s just a sub-thought to what really matters on the start line,” McGrath said.

“I like to think I get out there and make the most of the opportunities that I’ve got. There’s a lot of guys that are going through a tough time back in the military and outside the military with their post-traumatic stress and what’s happened to them in their service.

“So if I can show that getting out there and getting active leads to a positive and healthy life, it’s the least I can do really.”

Reynolds said she was relieved to paddle a strong race in her final after a disappointing semi-final on Wednesday.

“I crossed the line and I didn’t know, I thought I must have stuffed it up like I did yesterday,” Reynolds said.

“I felt a lot more controlled than yesterday. Yesterday was just a panic paddle I think.

“I think I just had to get my head back together and get back on top of it.”

Seipel triumphed in the VL2 final despite a limited preparation.

“It feels pretty special, especially as I haven’t really been focusing on the V1 very much,” Seipel said.

“I guess if I can stay on top with minimal training in the V, that’s fantastic. And if it gets included in the Paralympic program, I’ll focus on it a bit more.

“I think it would be great if it does get on to the program. It was so successful last year, I think we had a great debut as a sport.”

RESULTS

KL3 Women 200

  1. REYNOLDS Amanda (AUS) 344
  2. MIRZAEVA Shakhnoza (UZB) 778
  3. LULEA Mihaela (ROU) 033

KL2 Men 200

  1. MCGRATH Curtis (AUS) 758
  2. SWOBODA Markus (AUT) 508
  3. SYNIUK Mykola (UKR)  281

VL2 Women 200

  1. SEIPEL Susan (AUS) 1:02:897
  2. NIKIFOROVA Mariia (RUS) 1:03:680
  3. LAHUTENKO Nataliia (UKR) 1:03:808

Neumueller gets Australia off to a winning start at World Championships

Jocelyn Neumueller won the women’s VL1 title to cap off a successful opening day for the Australian team at the 2017 ICF Paracanoe World Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, on Wednesday.

All eight Australian paddlers made it safely through to A finals in Racice, with Neumueller the only one of the group to contest a final on day one.

She finished well ahead of Japanese duo Akiko Nakajima and Monika Seryu to secure top spot on the podium.

It was the biggest win of Neumueller’s short paddling career, having come to Paracanoe on the eve of the 2016 Paralympics.

“It’s a great feeling, for a class that’s quite new and still evolving, I’m very happy with the way it turned out,” Neumueller said.

“I still am quite new, and for me it is still very much a learning experience, and improvement to come. It’s such an exciting time.”

22-year-old Neumueller, who finished fifth in the KL1 at last year’s Paralympics, admitted to feeling nervous before her busy Wednesday schedule, but after a shaky start slipped into the groove.

“I think I was a little bit unsure going in, and probably overthinking things a bit, but after that first race where things just didn’t quite feel right, I was able to get things back together for my semi-final,” she said.

“I was able to win that and qualify fastest for my final on Saturday, so I think that gave me more confidence going into this final today, just doing what I know I can do and doing the best I could, which turned out to be the best on the day.”

“I feel like I’ve come a long way over the past year, but I’ve definitely got so much further to go, so it’s really an exciting time.”

The 2017 ICF Paracanoe World Championships continue on Thursday.

McGrath keen for new challenges five years after worst day of life

The date August 23, 2012, will never be forgotten by Australian paracanoeist Curtis McGrath.

That was the day the young soldier’s life changed forever; the day he stepped on a homemade landmine in Afghanistan and had both his legs blown off.

Next week, exactly five years to the day, 29-year-old McGrath will head out onto the water in Racice in the Czech Republic a Paralympic and World Champion. He’ll be part of a strong Australian team looking to build on their strong performance in Rio last year.

It’s been an incredible journey for McGrath, and for someone still relatively new to the sport, the best is maybe yet to come.

The McGrath story is legendary. How he told fellow soldiers frantically carrying him to a medivac helicopter in a Taliban-infested area of Afghanistan that they would one day see him competing at the Paralympics.

At the time such bold predictions could be put down to post traumatic shock, the delusions of a fit young man struggling to come to terms with an horrific experience that had turned his life upside down.

You can guarantee when McGrath held his hands aloft after crossing the Rio finish line last year, the sport’s first ever KL2 Paralympic gold medallist, it was those same soldiers who carried McGrath to the helicopter in 2012 who were cheering the loudest.

McGrath is always looking for fresh challenges. He loves the Invictus Games, an annual sporting event for wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel, of which he is an Ambassador for the 2018 Games in Sydney.

And after creating history in Rio, he toyed with the idea of adding a second sport, rowing, to his repertoire for Tokyo. It was incredibly ambitious, as it turns out too ambitious even for a high achiever like McGrath.

“Rowing for me was a great experience,” McGrath said.

“I enjoyed trying something I had never done before, but the more I looked at my year and schedule the harder it was to find time to fit everything in. I competed at national championships this year and did well but I have had to hang the oar up due to the lack of time I have to fit everything in.

“My priority will be Paracanoe and if I can manage my time better and I see myself wanting to go backwards for two kilometres I may try again.

“The change to 2km for Para-Rowing makes it a lot hard to train for both. They require two very different systems of physicality and me being a 200m kayaker makes it very hard.

“I more like the sound of V1 and K1 champion for Tokyo…”

If Curtis McGrath tells you it was hard to get back into training post his triumphant Rio Paralympics campaign, you can safely assume it was incredibly difficult.

It may be the first time he’s ever uttered the word publicly. There is little doubt that life as a Paralympic gold medallist has thrown up lots of new challenges he could never have dreamed five years and one day ago would be part of his life.

“Life post Rio has been really busy, but I have tried to keep it balanced with training and other engagements,” he said.

“It’s been tricky, but I think I have prepared well for Worlds this year.

“I had a lot of requests for speaking and invitations to events which have been great but it has taken me away from training.

“It was hard to get back into training. The body was enjoying not waking up sore and tired, to only do it all again the next morning. I think I am lucky I get the opportunity to compete in a sport I enjoy, that does make it easier.”

At the back of McGrath’s mind must be the nagging question – how do you top the Rio experience? It was the first time para canoe was on the Paralympic program, McGrath was a gold medallist, and there were more honours to come.

“I think my best memory from Rio was the opportunity to carry the Australian flag at the closing ceremony,” he said.

“Being my first Games I did not for one second think it was going to be me they would choose. There are so many amazing moments that happened in our team, so I felt very honoured to be chosen.

“Also, I cannot forget having my amazing cheer squad at the course, they made the atmosphere so good and lively. They really got into the Brazilian vibe of Rio.”

McGrath is looking forward to continuing his rivalry with Austria’s Markus Swoboda in Racice. In McGrath’s early days of racing he saw a lot of Swoboda’s back. That finally changed just before the Olympics and then, of course, at the Games themselves.

“Racice will be an interesting regatta, I’ve never been at a world’s in a post-Olympic year,” McGrath said.

“So, I expect some upsets. I hope that I can continue to be ahead of my competitors but I know everyone has been working really hard.

“Markus Swoboda has shown he still has great speed and I believe he will be the one to watch in Racice. I almost feel as though I have a target on my back now.”

Once next week’s World Championships are over McGrath will head to Canada for the 2017 Invictus Games. At the inaugural event in London he competed in archery and swimming, and then last year turned his hand to rowing and swimming.

Not surprisingly, he turned out to be pretty useful at all of them. This year he’ll add wheelchair rugby to his bulging portfolio.

“Being a part of the Invictus Games has, is, and will be amazing,” he said.

“I am excited to be a part of the team heading over to Toronto next month. Invictus is not all about winning, it plays a more important role in showing that sport can play a vital part of recovery for all types of injuries and illnesses.

“To know and see what the competitors at the Invictus Games have been through, and yet be out there competing and having fun while doing it is awe inspiring.

“Next year when the Games come to Sydney, it showcases this to every Australian, both able, injured, ill or disabled. It will be the event of the year.”

The 2017 ICF Paracanoe World Championships begin in Racice on Wednesday.