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Wheelchair athletes target Rio qualification at Canberra meet

With 11 Paralympic medals to his credit, it's understandable Kurt Fearnley needed a moment to remember exactly what he won at London four years ago. 

But he knows previous feats will count for little when Australia's best battle against international rivals at the opening round of the Summer Down Under Wheelchair Track and Road Racing Series at the AIS on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Fearnley and Canberra's Angie Ballard will be among the competitors who hope the fastest track on the circuit will translate to Paralympic qualifying times. 

Both are targeting a fifth Paralympic appearance and qualifying at the opening race of the year would take the pressure off before Rio in August. 

Fearnley and other competitors gave members of the public a chance to race against them at the series launch in Canberra on Tuesday. 

For the record, Fearnley won bronze in the marathon and 5000m silver in the T54 classification four years ago, and is optimistic he can add to his three Paralympic golds. 


"You know what, whether you're first or second you could hold the race the next day and win or come eighth," he said. 

"I'm putting everything in the right direction and see how things keep progressing. 

"It [AIS] is the quickest track in the country and the best facility for wheelchair racing in the country. 

"This is a real opportunity to knock those qualifications over and to be able to do it in the first race of the season would be sensational.

"Not too many people take an off season during a Paralympic year, so everyone starts the season in shape."

Ballard was involved in a near-fatal car accident when just seven years old.

The 33-year-old has two silvers and two bronze at the Paralympic and won world championship gold medals in the T53 200m and 400m events last year. 

She is desperate to stand atop the podium in Brazil and hopes the first step toward that journey is ticked off in her home town this week. 

"The Summer Down Under series is all about doing qualifiers for Rio," she said. 

"I was fortunate the beginning of my [Paralympic] career was in Sydney, because it was such a big team I got to go a bit earlier than some would. 

"I'm actually just starting to hit my stride the last few years, so I'm glad I've stuck with it this long to see the good part."

The AIS event is free for spectators, with competition beginning at 5.30pm both days.