Today I witnessed something incredible.
I’m in Rio as part of the Paralympic Inspiration Program and today’s agenda was to watch our own sports. A group of us arrived at the canoe venue early on and through a gap in the stands I caught a brief glance of Jeanette Chippington as she paddled past. I made a beeline to the front just to get a feel for the place. A few Aussies were claiming some seats for the day but it felt calm. The wind had dropped and the water was still. Paracanoe was about to make its mark on the Paralympic Games.
A few other familiar faces were warming up. Anne Dickens gave me a bicep flexing salute that summed up the British Canoeing team, strong! Ian Marsden was patrolling his lane zoned right into his race process. Nick Beighton cruised down slowly. He stopped his boat and I found myself playing a game of Simon Says as he fixed his posture, wound up the rotation and planted the paddles deep into a starting stroke. I have sat in a boat alongside him talking through the very routine as we have encouraged each other over the last couple of years.
I felt a real sense of joy watching these guys warm up. I was excited to see what would happen, and confident that it would be something good!
I said hello to most of the families and it was great to see so many of their nearest and dearest ready to make some noise!
Finding a spot with the stalwarts of Steve Train and Mike Chandler it didn’t take long for me to realise being in the crowd is noisy work! Half way through the first race I noticed my voice squeak and was almost gone by the time Jeanette had won the first ever Paralympic Canoe Gold medal. Ian Marsden was next and earned himself a bronze medal.
These first two races were amazing. If I’m honest I had predicted Jeanette would get silver. Edina Muller had won the worlds earlier in the year and I thought she would become a force within the class, but Jeanette clearly wasnt giving up her rule just yet! Her super friendly, easy to get on with side obviously doesn’t pull on the paddles! I’m sorry I ever doubted you Jeanette!
Watching Ian on the podium was great. He was chuffed! I couldn’t stop cheering and to see him so happy put a big smile on my face. He borrowed my paddles as a set of spares don’t you know!!!
That makes it sound a little dull but the reality is Emma’s closest rival at the World Championships was stood next to me loosing her voice cheering her on! Nicks race wasn’t a formality in any way but those three lads are a step up on the rest of the field. Curtis McGrath is a phenomenal athlete, and Marcus Swoboda has just about the longest Paracanoe career possible! Nick has stepped up massively this year and has been an absolute pleasure to train alongside. I have a lot of respect for these guys because they are not only solid athletes but really decent blokes.
Rob Oliver had just about the toughest job of the day. Racing in by far the most competitive class knowing that every other team member had won a medal could act as a negative motivation, whether that is true I don’t know. He didn’t get the result he wanted, finishing fifth, but I believe he can be proud of what he has achieved and as he stated after his race, “their will be more opportunities”.
The ICF and Paralympic organisers put on a fantastic show which has hopefully cemented canoeing into a permanent fixture of the Games.
Well done to all the British Canoeing staff for getting our six athletes in the shape to perform as they did! You guys are awesome.