Reigning Paralympic Champion, Great Britain’s Helene Raynsford has retired, leaving the door open for a new champion to take the stage and Ukraine’s Lysenko is favourite to lay claim to that elusive Paralympic gold medal.

Lysenko was awarded the 2011 Adaptive World Rowing Crew of the Year following her remarkable results. She has won the 2009 and 2011 World Rowing Championships and Lysenko has won every international race that she has contested. Like the dominant Tom Aggar in the men’s event, she holds the World Best Time – a 5:25.17 recorded in Poznan, Poland in 2009.

Lysenko, who is known for telling great jokes and making her teammates laugh, started rowing in 2009 after a spinal cord injury and the amputation of both legs as the result of a car accident. Just months later, she won a World Rowing Championship gold medal. 

Nathalie Benoit from France competing in the Arms Women's Single Sculls at the 2010 Rowing World Championships at Lake Karapiro, New Zealand.
However, Lysenko is not alone at the front of the field. Nathalie Benoit of France is tailing Lysenko closely, winning a World Rowing Championship silver medal last year, finishing just under two seconds behind the Ukrainian. In the absence of Lysenko at the 2010 World Rowing Championships due to ill health, Benoit was crowned the World Champion and Benoit also has a large collection of international medals since she made her debut in 2009. Like several other Paralympic athletes competing, Benoit was once a keen wheelchair basketball player, representing France at the European Championships.

At the 2012 World Rowing Cup adaptive regatta in Munich earlier this year, the final international regatta before the Paralympic Games, Benoit was knocked from the medal podium by Lysenko who took gold and Claudia Santos of Brazil who won silver and Liudmila Vauchok of Belarus who won bronze.

Both Santos and Vauchok are strong competitors. Vauchok started rowing in 2006. Two years later she won a Paralympic silver medal. Vauchok has also won silver and bronze at the World Rowing Championship level. Vauchok is also an accomplished winter Paralympian and has won two gold medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games in the 10km skiing race. Vauchok was a successful runner before an accident in 2001 which left her with three broken vertebrae and no feeling from the chest down.

Santos is a real character. She first competed internationally in 2007, winning gold at the World Rowing Championships in Munich, Germany. Santos finished sixth at the 2008 Paralympic Games, took time out from international competition in 2009 but came back to rowing in 2010 to win silver at the World Rowing Championships in Poznan, Poland. Santos finished fifth at the World Rowing Championships last year and is hoping to improve on this at the Paralympic Games.

As winner of the Gavirate Adaptive Regatta this year in Italy, Moran Samuel charmed the rowing world when she sang her national anthem after the wrong one was played at her victory ceremony ( Winning bronze at the 2011 World Rowing Championships, the former wheelchair basketball player could challenge for a medal in Eton-Dorney.
Jongrye Lee of Korea has improved every year that she has competed. After finishing ninth at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, Lee finished 5th in 2009 at the World Rowing Championships in Poznan, and fourth last year in Bled, Slovenia.

Filomena Franco of Portugal and Martyna Snopek of Poland have both been on in the international scene for a while. Snopek won bronze in the ASW1x at the 2006 and 2007 World Rowing Championships, whilst Filomena was the flag-bearer for Portugal at the 2008 Paralympic Games and was a bronze medallist at the 2010 World Rowing Championships.

Several athletes seized on the last chance to qualify at the 2012 Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta earlier this year in Belgrade, Serbia. Canada’s Joan Reid stormed to a decisive victory to qualify, and South Africa’s Sandra Khumalo finished second to claim the remaining qualification spot in her first ever international race.

Bipartite invitations were extended to Hungary’s Monika Lengyel and Japan’s Mari Ohtake. Lengyel has been rowing for almost four years and was fourth at the 2010 World Rowing Championships while Ohtake is very new to the sport – her first international race was the Final Paralympic Qualification Regatta, in which she was placed fifth.