STUART WOOD has high hopes for his Paralympic debut after officially booking his place in the canoeing team set to descend on Japan.

The 27-year-old, who hails from Bunbury, Cheshire, won’t be phased by his maiden taste of the Games and is hunting for a medal at the first time of asking.

While the rest of the eight-strong squad selected by ParalympicsGB were in Rio five years ago, Wood is the baby of the team.

After becoming VL3 European champion in Poznan back in 2019, he is now a Paralympian after battling his way through a competitive selection process.

Wood, one of over 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, said: “It is a fantastic feeling after such a long road to selection, especially after last year with lockdown cancelling our initial team selection just a few weeks before the announcement.

“To finally come out the other end is a really great moment.

“I am really excited. The first Games can be very difficult to manage for a lot of people, so it is good I have seven GB athletes around me who all have Paralympic experience.”

UK Sport's National Lottery-funded World Class Programme allows Stuart to train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

He joined the programme in 2019 but is already a serious contender for medals, having also finished 3rd in the VL3 200m at that year’s World Championships.

Despite the chaos thrown up by last summer’s postponement, Wood actually feels he is in an even better position to challenge a year on.

He added: “I think I would have been in a good spot going into it last year, but in hindsight now it really has benefited me, having that time to really drill into some bits of training we wouldn’t normally get.

“Historically my endurance has been a weak point of my race. Having a year we didn’t have any races to peak for, meant we could do loads of endurance training for a full 12 months.

“It was a really positive time to help me push on.”
Even when the Games were postponed and training had to be conducted over Zoom, he remained focused on improvement.

Wood believes that not only himself, but the GB squad as a whole, are stronger because of it, adding: “I think in a weird way the team is even more together now.

“The strength in depth of this squad has really helped me keep going. It is something no other country in the world really has, to the same extent.

“To go so long without international competition, it keeps you in the zone.”

Even in a tough race, Wood wants to utilise that experience and push for a medal.

Wood, who is hoping to add to the 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997, said: “Obviously, everyone is going in for the win.

“I am in such a competitive class you never quite know - a number of people will think they have a great chance of winning. I just want to do the best race and see where it goes.”

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