Mike Ballard remains upbeat despite slim Paralympics qualification chances in Hungary

Abu Dhabi-based kayaker makes it to Paracanoe World Cup B-Final

Mike Ballard says he “won’t be holding back” in the B-final at the ICF Paracanoe World Cup, even if his route to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo now appears remote.

The Abu Dhabi-based kayaker advanced to Saturday's second-tier competition final after finishing seventh in his semi-final in Szeged, Hungary on Thursday.

Competing for the United States in the K2 Men’s 200m event, Ballard is pursuing one of four places on offer for qualification for the Tokyo Games via the World Cup.

However, the process by which the places are decided is a convoluted one, and the competitors will not even know for sure who will be going to the Paralympics when the event in Hungary is concluded.

Thirty places for the men’s paracanoe events in Tokyo were decided by the World Cup in 2019, with 18 more on offer across a range of disciplines this time.

The top four ranked athletes in each medal event will obtain a qualification place for their respective national Paralympic committees – unless the country already qualified two years ago. One of the places can also be taken up by Japan, as the host country for the Games.

Given he will be going in the final that decides ninth to 16th place in the standings, Ballard’s qualification chances are distant.

No matter the permutations, he said he was satisfied with his performance, given he is a relative newcomer to the sport and has had just two weeks’ practice in his new, streamlined racing boat.

“Having not known who would be here before the event, I think this a very, very similar crowd to what you will see at the Olympics,” Ballard said.

“Just from looking at the faces who were here, it was pretty clear I would have to be a lot better than I was expecting to be to make the A-final.

“I need to paddle very, very fast, and have a very good showing [in Saturday’s B-final].

“I’m going to paddle as hard as I can, and I won’t be holding back. If I fall out of my boat because I’m paddling so hard, at this stage that won’t be much of an issue, as opposed to round one.”

Ballard said the two heats on Thursday were an education for him on steering his new boat while the competitors were buffeted by a strong cross wind.

“Because I can’t steer with my feet, I can only steer by paddling, and have to plan ahead a lot more,” Ballard said.

“If I think I’m going to be in trouble in 30 metres, I have to start steering right now.

“With the wind in race one, I was focused on paddling and not thinking, and I got into a little bit of trouble.

“Race two was actually pretty good. It was similarly tough conditions but I had a plan for steering and executed it.

“I started slow because I was dealing with the cross wind and steering. Apparently, I had to make a pretty big comeback to catch the guy from Angola [who finished eighth]. I did enough to get into the B-final.”

Published: May 13, 2021 07:49 PM

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