Curtis McGrath belied his stuttering start in Tokyo to blitz the field in the men’s kayak single 200m KL2 final and defend the gold medal he won in Rio. A rudder issue had seen McGrath finish third in his heat on Thursday forcing him to qualify for Friday’s final via a semi-final that morning. But after coolly cruising through the semi-final, recording a Paralympic best time of 41.134, the star Australian delivered in the final.
After a hotly contested start, McGrath burst away from the field in the final 100m to claim gold by more than a full second (1.077 seconds), with a time of 41.426. Ukrainian Mykola Syniuk won silver with Italy’s Federico Mancarella, who challenged McGrath early in the race, claiming bronze.
“I’m super happy with my performance,” McGrath said. “Going back-to-back is one of those feelings that I’ve confirmed to myself that I can come to the biggest event and perform.”
It means McGrath’s campaign to win two gold medals in Tokyo is very much alive, with his VL3 200m final to come on Saturday. The former soldier hoped the rain would “bugger off” by then and stressed he was in for a tough race against Great Britain’s Stuart Wood and Brazil’s Caio Ribeiro de Carvalho.
“I’m not going out there to T-bone them or stop them or fight them,” he said. “I’m going out there to race my own race and hopefully I can put it all together.”
Meanwhile compatriot Susan Seipel claimed a silver medal in the women’s va’a single 200m VL2, improving on her Rio bronze medal. Great Britain’s Emma Wiggs won gold by more than four seconds with a time of 57.028 seconds. Seipel crossed the line second in 1:01.481, holding off Great Britain’s Jeanette Chippington.
In cycling, Paige Greco won her third medal at her first Paralympics, claiming bronze in the women’s C1-3 road race. Japan’s Keiko Sugiura comfortably won gold on Friday with a last-ditch sprint to the line determining the silver, bronze and fourth-place. Greco, 24, was beaten by Sweden’s Anna Beck but nudged out China’s Wang Xiaomei in the photo finish.
“I knew it would probably come down to a sprint finish,” Greco said. “I knew one of the girls was behind me, I didn’t know both of them [Beck and Wang] were. It was super close.”
Greco previously won Australia’s first gold in Tokyo in the C3 individual pursuit, then landed bronze in the C1-3 time trial. “I’m very happy to be on the podium again and for all my races in my first Paralympics,” she said. “It’s been an amazing Games and I never want to forget it.”
Alistair Donohoe finished fifth in the men’s C4-5 road race after overcoming two painful early crashes early to see out the race.
Australia’s table tennis team delivered two more medals as Lin Ma and Joel Coughlan ended up with silver after going down to China’s Lian Hao and Zhao Li Qing in the men’s team classes 9-10 gold medal match.
Lina Lei, Qian Yang and Melissa Tapper also claimed silver in the women’s team classes 9-10. The Australians faced Poland in Friday morning’s gold medal match but lost the tie 2-0. The silver medal is Australia’s first team table tennis medal since 1964.
Lei and Yang fronted up against Poland’s Natalya Partyka and Karolina Pek in the doubles and fell agonisingly short, losing 3-2. The Polish duo won just four more points for the entire match, claiming a 11-6 7-11 11-6 7-11 11-9 victory. Yang then faced Partyka in the singles in a bid to get Australia back into the contest.
Yang had beaten Partyka in their singles semi-final earlier in the week, on her way to claiming gold but Partyka turned the tables on Friday, taking just 22 minutes to seal the team gold with a 3-0 win. Partyka claimed the first game 11-5, then dug deep to win the second game 11-9 before reeling off the third 11-5. The third tie, a singles match between Tapper and Pek, was not required. The men’s team classes 9-10 will face China for gold on Friday evening.
Elsewhere, the final night in the Paralympic pool did not bear the same fruit as past evenings for Australia. But in a thrilling final race, Australia’s 4×100 medley (34 points) team of Timothy Hodge, Timothy Diskin, Will Martin and Ben Popham won a gutsy silver.
Popham, who anchored the team, mowed down Italy’s Antonio Fantin and took a huge chunk off the Russian Paralympic Committee’s lead, but ran out of pool before he could completely close the gap. The Russian Paralympic Committee team went on to break the world record.
Australia’s best individual pool performance on Friday came from Col Pearse, whose personal best time of 2:14.20 in the 200m individual medley SM10 earned him fourth place.