STORY AND PHOTOS BY ED MORAN
TOKYO, JAPAN – The long Covid-extended wait to get the chance to race for a Paralympic medal is finally over for the crews that have gathered in Tokyo at the Sea Forest Waterway Paralympic rowing course.
On a scorching hot and hazy morning Thursday, crews made their final preparations and took their last practice strokes before racing begins Friday morning.
“It feels very good to get going,” said Dani Hansen who is rowing in the U.S. mixed coxed four in her second Paralympics. Hansen is the only returning Paralympian in the U.S. crew that is chasing the boat’s first win at either the world championships or Paralympics after a six-peat of silver medals.
“Everything here is as expected,” Hansen said. “I feel like we’ve prepared the way we should have. And no, it doesn’t feel like five years since Rio, it feels more like ten. This is a different age for sure.”
The U.S. coxed four is one of four that will be competing here, including the men’s and women’s singles and the mixed double. Like Hansen, this will be men’s single sculler Blake Haxton’s second Games and yesterday said he was just as eager to begin racing.
“I’m looking forward to getting after it,” Haxton said. “We’ve been here long enough that I feel pretty well adjusted and the racing will be fast. It really does feel like it’s been five years, which I was not expecting.”
Haxton said the worst part about the extended cycle, caused by the year-long Pandemic delay, was never knowing if he would actually see this day. “It was just the uncertainty of whether it would happen it all,” he said.
But now it is going to happen, beginning Friday morning with heats and continuing through Sunday with finals. While race is happening on Tokyo time, the racing is being broadcast in the U.S. tonight.
Here are some photos from Thursday practice: