Paralympic sport-switching gamble pays off for gold medallist Charlotte Henshaw

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Charlotte Henshaw claimed kayaking gold after switching from swimming (Picture: Imagecomms)
Charlotte Henshaw claimed kayaking gold after switching from swimming (Picture: Imagecomms)

By Charlie Bennett in Tokyo

After 13 years, four Paralympics and two near-misses, Charlotte Henshaw finally climbed to the top step of the podium.

In what was billed the battle of the Brits, the 34-year-old blasted clear of teammate Emma Wiggs to win the 200m kayak KL2 final for her first Paralympic gold - and in her second sport.

Henshaw won silver in London and bronze in Rio, albeit in and not on the water, as she swam breaststroke at her first three Games.

However, she’s not looked back since switching five years ago and beat Wiggs by 0.6 seconds at the Sea Forest Waterway, shrieking in celebration when the results flashed up on screen.

In 2016, Henshaw had never even sat in a kayak but on Saturday morning, she was a Paralympic champion and admits her gamble has paid off.

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“I didn’t switch sports to win a gold medal but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to complete the set,” she said, 13 years after her Paralympic debut in Beijing.

“The fact that I managed to get the job done was just the icing on the cake. It’s lovely with a bronze and a silver but it looks much better with one of each colour. I just knew that I wanted a new challenge.

“I knew that there was a real opportunity to learn something new. I didn’t know if I’d be any good. I’d never sat in a kayak before. It was a real stab in the dark. Fortunately, I took to it very quickly.

“We’ve all been eying up the pizza in the food hall and we’ve been keeping away from it for however long we’ve been here. Pizza party for lunch and then maybe an ice cream to celebrate.”

Henshaw motored out of the starting blocks and took an immediate lead and, though Wiggs threatened to reel her back in down the second 100m, she crossed the line comfortably first.

The windy conditions should have made a fast race impossible but Henshaw still set a personal best by clocking 50.760 seconds.

“I was hurting so much [towards the end of the race],” added Henshaw, who is able to train full-time and benefit from world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams thanks to National Lottery funding.

“In a competition like the Paralympic Games with all the plans to do this time, do that time, smash a world record, whatever it is - sometimes it’s just about racing, it’s about grit.

“The last three Paralympic finals I’ve been in in Beijing, London and Rio, it’s been the exact same thing. That’s what I was doing today.

“It was a fantastic race and incredible that Emma and I have got the top two steps on the podium again.”

Henshaw was not the only Saturday success story, as Laura Sugar completed a sweet morning for Great Britain with gold in the 200m KL3 final.

The 30-year-old is also a canoeing convert having competed in athletics at Rio 2016 and says she executed the perfect plan after winning in 49.582 seconds for her own personal best.

“It was a bit of a blur really, it is amazing to do that race out there, I knew I had to nail my start and then the racer in me comes out halfway through the race,” she said.

“I only think about nailing the start and it paid off. I am just glad it has all gone to plan.”

There was also a bronze medal for Stuart Wood in the final of the va’a 200m VL3 final.

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