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While rowing’s Olympic history is long and glorious, the sport's participation in the Paralympic Games is still in the first metres of a long regatta.
After making its debut in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games, and then thrilling spectators at Eton Dorney during the London 2012 Games, rowing will be present for the third time at Rio 2016, when it will be held on the iconic Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. For Brazilian rowers, competing on home waters will increase their chances of winning the country's second medal in the sport.
Brazil took bronze at the Beijing Games in the mixed double sculls, with a crew of Josiane Lima and Elton Santana. In London, Claudia Santos, from São Paulo state, almost made it to the podium, but finished fourth in the women's single sculls event.
“It was a great improvement in relation to Beijing, where I finished sixth,” said the Pinheiros (SP) Regatta Club rower. “It was a very important experience and the result showed that we are on the right track.
"I fell short of the podium by very little. I’m already working with a larger team and we're focusing on some technical details that needed to be rectified,” Santos added.
The 36-year-old was world champion in 2007 and a bronze medallist at the last edition of the world championships, in 2013. She believes that Brazilian sport has what it takes to shine at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and, in her opinion, the event may contribute to a change in perceptions regarding people with a disability.
“I expect a great show, with a top-level structure. We Brazilians will be at home and we want to represent our country very well. I hope the Games will bring a new approach to Paralympic sport, with increased support and opportunities,” said the rower, who had her right leg amputated after a road accident 13 years ago.
Lima, who is still very much involved in Brazilian rowing, believes hers and Santana's bronze in Beijing was a watershed moment. “The medal brought great recognition for the sport and motivated a series of incentives in Brazil,” she said.
While Brazil rows for its second medal, other countries are looking to build on earlier success. The traditional powerhouse of Olympic rowing, Great Britain, also dominates the Paralympic scene with three Paralympic gold medals and a bronze. China stands out with three golds. Ukraine and Italy have Paralympic rowing champions, while the United States has four medals: two silvers and two bronzes.
Paralympic rowing classifications and events
In Paralympic rowing, boats are adapted to the rowers’ needs, which are classified according to the parts of their body they use to move the boat over the 1000m of each race. Rowers who only use their arms are part of the AS class. Those who use the trunk and arms belong to the TA class. Visually impaired competitors, who use arms, legs and torsos, are classified as LTA.
The Paralympic rowing programme includes four events: men’s and women’s individual events for AS class rowers, mixed doubles events for TA class rowers and mixed events for four-member crews competing in the LTA class, which are guided by coxswains who may not have a disability.