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2014-05-02

Paracanoe stars believe Rio 2016 Games will boost sport and change perceptions in Brazil

World champions Fernando Fernandes and Marta Ferreira inspired by chance to race at iconic city venue in front of their home fans

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Four-time world champion Fernando Fernandes is a strong medal candidate for Rio 2016 (Photo: Brazilian Paralympic Committee)

Brazilian paracanoe athletes believe that the sport’s inclusion in the Paralympic programme for the Rio 2016 Games will promote its growth in the host nation and help change attitudes towards people with a disability in Brazil.

“We want to show people that this is a serious sport, involving rigorous training,” said Brazil’s Marta Ferreira, a two-time world champion in the K-1 200m TA class, in which athletes can use their torso and arms to propel the kayak. “Above all, I hope that more people become interested in the sport and that Brazil gains new athletes. I also hope we can attract the interest of more sponsors, because our equipment, such as oars and boats, is expensive.”

Fernando Fernandes, a four-time world champion in the K-1 200m A class, in which athletes use only their arms, has become a role model for Paralympic sport in Brazil. Already famous as a model and reality TV star, he entered the world of Paralympic sports after a car accident left him paralysed from the waist down and has seen how Paralympism helps redefine perceptions towards people with an impairment.

“People have stopped seeing simply disabled people and they now see people with some kind of disability doing high-performance sport in an intense, magnificent manner,” he said. “The Games make Paralympic athletes look like superheroes, and this creates a lot of confidence and also raises our visibility.”

At the Rio 2016 Games, paracanoe will make its Paralympic debut on the beautiful Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, in the heart of the city. The stunning lagoon, surrounded by mountains and rainforest, will also host the canoe sprint and rowing events during the Olympic Games, and is sure to be an iconic venue, with the Christ the Redeemer statue looking down from the nearby Corcovado mountain.

It is something that Brazilian athletes are dreaming of every day. “My greatest moment will be rowing in my lane on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas with the stands packed with fans,” said Fernandes. “This goes through my head all the time, and I am focused on training every day until I get there, in pursuit of a medal.”

Two-time world champion Marta Ferreira is looking forward to home support (Photo: Brazilian Canoe Federation)

 

Ferreira feels the same way, saying: “Rowing in Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas under the Christ statue with its arms open towards us will be very inspiring, especially with all those people in the stands cheering us on. As we say, the fans are like an extra arm to help us row. Our goal is to help to put Brazil at the top of the medals table.”

Brazil has emerged as a strong Paralympic sports nation in recent years, with stars such as Alan Fonteles Oliveira, Yohansson Nascimento, Daniel Dias and Terezinha Guilhermina becoming household names. It is also one of the most successful countries in paracanoe, having won seven gold medals in the four editions of the world championships, only behind Great Britain, which has won 11. In addition to Fernando and Marta, Caio de Carvalho is Brazil’s third international champion, in the V-1 200m LTA event.

Brazilian paracanoeists’ preparations for the Rio 2016 Games gained a major boost with the opening this month of the Paracanoe Team Training Centre in São Paulo. The facility has a garage, adapted changing rooms, swimming pools and a weight training room.

At the South American Paracanoe Championships, which took place in early April in Montevideo, Uruguay, all six Brazilian representatives – Andréa Pontes, Marta Ferreira, Luis Carlos Cardoso, Caio de Carvalho, Fernando Fernandes and Ronald Patrick – returned home with gold medals.

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