On the eve of the Rio Paralympics, Australian para-canoe coach Andrea King is urging her small but determined team to soak up the knowledge and experience of fellow para-athletes.
The Australian team of six athletes and four staff are the new kids on the block – first-time Paralympians competing as a sport at this level for the first time.
Para-canoe has been a welcome addition to the Paralympic program, and Australians have every reason to be excited, considering the form of the half dozen athletes who will be wearing the green and gold.
King said it’s exciting to show off the sport to the rest of the world.
“Having seen the level of performance grow since Para-canoe started, I think the close racing will impress the world,” King said.
“The sport has come a long way in such a short time. It is really pleasing to see the level it has reached.”
Australia can boast some of the biggest names in para-canoe in its six-strong team. Curtis McGrath, Amanda Reynolds and Susan Seipel have all won World Championship titles.
Colin Sieders, Dylan Littlehales and Jocelyn Neumueller have all been in the sport for next to no time, and already find themselves representing their country on the highest stage.
But one of the challenges confronting King is how to prepare an athlete for an adventure none of them have ever experienced.
“There is expectation about how the team will perform and it is a challenge to manage the expectations,” she said.
“The athletes also have high expectations. Since arriving in the village, it seems to have allowed most to settle. With routine for the next week, we should be able to keep on track for those great performances.
“There is a lot of support from the APC staff and other athletes in the village. It allows for the team to mix with others who have competed at the Paralympics before and been on the podium.
“They can have discussions with peers who can also act as mentors.”
Working in the team’s favour is the journey they have undertaken to get to Rio. Every single one of them has made huge sacrifices, and they have enjoyed the best possible preparation.
“Prior to leaving Australia, a lot of the athletes made the big decision to base themselves on the Gold Coast for training, leaving study, work and family behind in the quest to be in the best position to perform at their best,” King said.
“We have just finished a training camp in Italy and the athletes made the most of the facilities provided by the AIS – European training centre.
“We had great staff support with sport science (Robbie Palmer) and strength and conditioning (Jesse Flemming) as well as the staff who have headed to Rio.”
No matter what happens, King is cognizant of her team’s role in para-canoe history.
“There is history in the making and the Australian team have six athletes and four staff a part of that history,” she said.
“It is the first time for Para-canoe and so these are the first athletes to take to such a big stage.
“A good result for the team would be for them all to perform at their best. If everyone can do that, the results will take care of themselves.
“They are all tracking well for top performances.”
The Rio Paralympics open on Thursday morning, Australian time.