Yu Xiaowei will have to take on Luis Carlos Cardoso da Silva and a partisan home crowd in Rio (Photo: Getty Images/Dean Mouhtaropoulos)
Most athletes would be satisfied after winning a world title, but not Yu Xiaowei. The Chinese stunned the para-canoe world in May when he won the men’s KL1 200m, an event normally dominated by Brazilians.
However, Yu was hardly brimming with joy as he recalled it. “I had a great start, but couldn’t hold onto it until the end,” Yu told Paralympic.org. “I could’ve had a better time if I had been able to keep up my speed. I always go out really fast, but I can never close as well as I want to.”
Next month he will have the chance to show improvement at Rio 2016, where his sport will make its Paralympic Games debut.
“Rio will be my first international multi-sport event,” he said. “I’m nervous and excited. There is a lot of pressure, but also a lot to be happy about.
“I’m still inexperienced. I know I have a lot to learn from my opponents. Hopefully, in Rio, I’ll be able to learn from them and take away some experience for myself.”
Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, seen here during the Olympic Games, will provide a stunning setting for canoe's Paralympic Games debut (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Having finished eighth at the 2015 worlds, Yu unexpectedly triumphed at the 2016 world championships in Duisburg, Germany. He won the final in 50.596 seconds, ahead of Poland’s European champion Jakob Tokarz (50.855) and Brazil’s defending world champion Luis Carlos Cardoso da Silva (52.233).
Yu became only the second non-Brazilian winner in the men’s KL1 200m, after Hungary’s Andras Rozbora in 2014.
In Rio, Yu will have to battle favourite Cardoso and a partisan home crowd.
“The Brazilian and the Pole really pushed me until the end,” said the 27-year-old. “I think it will be a very close race in September.
“I trust my coach, he knows what’s best for me. I want to fly the Chinese flag on the top step of the podium. There are many factors that can go into making that happen, including luck, but I will try my best.”
The canoe sprint competitions will take place on 13 and 14 September at Lagoa Stadium.