Para canoeist Corbin Hart produced a superlative display on his international debut to advance to the A final of the KL3 200m at the ICF Canoe-Kayak Sprint and Paracanoe World Cup in Szeged, Hungary today (Thursday) and barring an unforeseen disaster the rookie Kiwi is poised to qualify a New Zealand boat for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Competing in just his third regatta, the 26-year-old belied his lack of experience to finish second in his opening heat, recording a time of 44.27 to advance fifth fastest for the semi-finals.
Then, some 90 minutes later in a high-pressure semi-final, Corbin stepped up to the task again to grab one of the three automatic qualification spot for the final.
With reigning World and Olympic KL3 200m champion Serhii Yemelianov in the adjacent lane, the Kiwi kept his composure and made a strong start.
Sat second behind the Ukrainian for much of the race he was overhauled in the latter stages by Hungary’s Erik Kiss but maintained his form to the finish to bank third in 44.58 to ensure a safe passage into Sunday’s A final.
Yemelianov claimed the victory in a blistering 42.06 with Kiss 2.17 seconds further back.
The Kiwi qualified sixth fastest for the A Final and appears set to qualify a New Zealand boat in the KL3 200m event at the Tokyo Paralympics.
Seven nations – including six of the A finalists – have already qualified a boat leaving the three remaining A Finalists – New Zealand Poland and Hungary – sitting pretty to bank the three remaining Paralympic berths.
The KL3 A Final takes place on Sunday (2.30am NZ Time).
An elated Corbin admitted he has not been sleeping well since arriving in Europe and was riddled with nerves on the start line, so he was delighted to have set up a spot in the A Final.
“I was so nervous, but it is good to have nerves or why would we do this,” Corbin explains. “I was feeling pretty tired after my heat. In the semi the first 150m went well but I started to struggle in the last 50m, which in some ways was to be expected.
“To get the unknown out of the way was great, and now I can just concentrate on the final. I’m stoked. I’m really proud of how I’ve performed here in Szeged and it has given me a burning desire to want to achieve more.”
When asked about his hopes was for A Final, he answered: “A top four would be nice.”
Corbin from Red Beach on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula has enjoyed a spectacular rise in the sport. After losing his right leg in a civil roading accident in December 2019 he only took up kayaking in July last year.
After impressing at the Blue Lake 1 and 2 regattas in Rotorua in October and December, respectively, and in subsequent testing, Canoe Racing NZ have backed his qualification effort in Hungary for the Paralympic Games.
Follow Corbin’s progress on the livestream via the Planet Canoe YouTube channel.
Image Credit: Nikola Krstic