Paralympics canoe sprinter Curtis McGrath breathed a sigh of relief after he veered off course and hit a floating box marking the finishing line but still managed to get through what he later called one of the worst races of his life.
The Australian, who is aiming to win two gold medals at the Tokyo Paralympics, nearly saw his dreams of successfully defending his kayak single 200m KL2 title vanish after the incident towards the end of his heat on Thursday.
The former Australian Army combat engineer, whose legs were amputated after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan nine years ago, pointed to a problem with his canoe’s rudder following the dramatic conclusion to his heat.
The mishap meant McGrath finished third and failed to qualify directly for the final – although crucially he was not disqualified – and he will now have to race a semi on Friday to keep his title defence on track.
“Difficult race for me – probably one of my worst in my life,” McGrath told the Seven Network. “I had a bit of a technical error with my rudder – [it] wasn’t straight, it was drifting out of my lane and the rule is if you go out of your lane or the centre of your lane you get disqualified.
“It’s better to have it happen in the heat rather than in the final so I just let it come back in and crossed the line and hoping for a good semi-final tomorrow.”
McGrath is also hoping to win gold in the new kayak class – the VL3 category – after he qualified fastest for the final.
Elsewhere, swimmer Will Martin has smashed his own world record in a heat to power into the 100m butterfly S9 final. Martin, who already holds Tokyo gold medals in the 400m freestyle S9 and the 4x100m freestyle (34 points), blitzed the field with a time of 58.14.
The 20-year-old’s time was 0.14 seconds better than his previous mark set in April while fellow Australian Tim Hodge also qualified for Thursday night’s final, finishing second in the heat to Martin and recording the sixth-fastest time of 1:01.58.
Martin’s swim was the second world record Australia has set in the pool in Tokyo. Martin, Ben Popham, Rowan Crothers and Matthew Levy broke the 4x100m freestyle (34 points) world record when they won gold on Monday night. Meanwhile, Ben Hance set a Paralympic record of 57.75 seconds in his 100m backstroke S14 heat – just shy of his world record of 57.56.