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Quality New Zealand Team All Set For Para Athletics World Championships Quest

Danielle Aitchison. Photo/Supplied.

A New Zealand team brimming with medal potential will start their quest on Saturday (18 May) at the 2024 Para Athletics World Championships in Kobe, Japan (17-25 May) seeking positive outcomes ahead of the Paris Paralympic Games later this year.

The five-strong Kiwi line-up, all of whom claimed medals at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships in Paris, will feature in the 11th edition of the event and the first ever to be held in East Asia optimistic of a good showing.

Originally taking place in 2021, the event in Kobe has twice been postponed because of Covid, however, the rescheduled competition represents a great opportunity for the quintet of athletes in the Black Singlet to compete at a major global event.

Attracting 1073 athletes from around 104 nations the nine-day competition at the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium will guarantee top quality competition with the Kiwi challenge opening on Saturday with Will Stedman and Anna Grimaldi competing in their respective sprint heats.

Stedman, who at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships snared silver medals in the men’s 400m T36 and men’s long jump T36, will compete in the heats of the 400m T36 from 12.30pm (NZT), where he will face World and Paralympic champion James Turner of Australia.

The Christchurch-based 24-year-old, who is ranked world number two, will try to successfully navigate a route through to the final at 2pm (NZT) on Sunday.

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Stedman will also be in action in the men’s long jump T36 final later in the championship programme.

Grimaldi also takes to the track on Saturday, seeking to replicate her outstanding showing at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships in Paris when she set a New Zealand record of 5.96m to take long jump T47 silver and claimed a first global sprints medal with 100m T47 bronze in an Oceania record 12.31. Heats in the latter event take place from 8.30pm on Saturday (17 May) with the final to follow at 9.56pm on Sunday.

The Dunedin-based two-time Paralympic long jump T47 champion will target precious metal in her speciality event later in the programme, where she will take on defending champion and world number one Kiara Rodriguez of Ecuador.

New Zealand’s sole defending Para Athletics World Championships Danielle Aitchison will hope to mount a jet-heeled challenge in the women’s 100m and 200m T36 after enjoying a stellar domestic campaign.

The Hamilton-based 22-year-old set a stunning world 100m T36 record of 13.41 at the JennianHomes New Zealand Track & Field Championships in Wellington in March and at the same meet came within two hundredths of a second of the world 200m T64, clocking 28.19.

Aitchison claimed the 2023 Para World 200m T64 title and 100m T64 silver – behind her long-time rival Shi Yiting of China – so expect fireworks when the pair clash once again in Kobe.

Paralympic javelin F46 champion Holly Robinson has opted to only compete in the women’s shot F46 in Kobe as she steps up her preparations for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. The 29-year-old Dunedin-based thrower claimed a shot F46 silver medal at the 2023 Para Athletics World Championships in Kobe and further underlined her ability with the metal orb by posting a national shot put T46 record courtesy of a 12.17m throw in February.

Ranked number two in the world behind Noelle Malkamaki, the defending world champion of the US, Robinson will be chasing a sixth Para Athletics World medal in her seventh appearance at the event.

The team is rounded out by 2023 Para World 200m T64 bronze medallist Mitch Joynt. The Auckland-based sprinter produced the run of his life to climb the podium in Paris last year and the 29-year-old – currently ranked joint fifth in the world – will seek to draw more inspiration from competing on the global stage. Joynt starts his quest in the men’s 200m T64 heats next Friday (24 May).

Grimaldi said: “The 2024 Para Athletics World Championships is a great opportunity to test ourselves against the very best in the world ahead of the Paris Paralympics. I am looking forward to the challenge, to learn more about myself and show that as a team we are on the right path for Paris.”

Joynt said: “My final prep in Gold Coast has gone well, I’ve loved being back a part of the team and I’m looking forward to testing myself against the best in the world in Kobe. With two massive global competitions in 2024 this is a huge year for all Para athletes. My hope is to put in a decent performance in Kobe, which I can then build on for the Paris Paralympics.”

The 2024 Para Athletics World Championships Team Leader Tim Driesen said: “The final preparations went well in Gold Coast and the experienced team, who have all tasted success on the international stage, can’t wait to compete in Kobe. Having an additional global championship in a Paralympic year is an exciting prospect and will provide the perfect lead into the Paris 2024 Games later this year.”

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