2018 in Review: Para canoe

New faces entered the scene and Va’a competition picked up

Man in a canoe celebrating Australia's Curtis McGrath celebrates after winning gold at the 2018 World Championships © • ICF

Before preparations begin in earnest for the 2019 Para canoe season, with qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games at stake, here is a look back at the major takeaways from 2018:

Champions double up

Five European champions from Belgrade, Serbia, in June repeated their success by taking World Championship glory in August.

Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal, was the stage for gold medal winning performances from Ukraine's Serhii Yemelianov and Sweden's Helene Ripa in the men and women’s respective KL3 categories.

Russia’s Larisa Volik* was triumphant in the women’s VL3 (a non-Paralympic event); Great Britain's Emma Wiggs in the women’s VL2; and Italy’s Esteban Farias in the men’s KL1. Expect them to be the favourites heading into an important 2019 season.

McGrath the man

Australia's Curtis McGrath successfully defended his KL2 World title in Portugal and added the VL3 gold medal to his collection. It was his first race at the World Championships in VL3 after reclassification; and he was unbeaten in both boats all season. The Paralympic and world champion appears unstoppable.

Men’s VL2 wide open

Three new Va’a boat classes were added to the Tokyo 2020 programme, and the 2018 season proved that the men’s VL2 category can be anyone’s game.

At the moment, Brazil’s recently crowned world champion Igor Tofalini is at the forefront. He was pushed all the way by teammate Luis Silva in Montemor-o-Velho. European champion Marius Ciustea of Italy was third, but a strong offseason training can close the gap.

Mixed fortunes for the Brits

Great Britain topped the medals table at the European Championships with eight. At the Worlds, Emma Wiggs lost her KL2 title to compatriot and rising star Charlotte Henshaw. Jeanette Chippington could not defend her KL1 gold, taking bronze. Newcomer Jack Eyers grabbed an impressive bronze in the tough VL3 class and, along with Henshaw, is an exciting talent to follow.

Redemption for Mazhula

After the disappointment of being disqualified at the European Championships, Ukrainian paddler Maryna Mazhula won the women's KL1 race by over a second. She took the title from the defending world and Paralympic champion Chippington.

Crucial time for the Va'a athletes

With the Va’a boat confirmed for Tokyo 2020, 2018 was an important year for paddlers looking to make an early statement. Many of them are facing new rivals and have new medal hopes. The coming year will be a good measure of who is going to make history and win the first Paralympic medals in Va'as.

*Editor's note: The International Paralympic Committee suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee on 7 August 2016 for its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory). As a result of the suspension, Russian athletes cannot enter IPC sanctioned events or competitions, including the Paralympic Games.