LAURENCE WHITELEY says he is relishing the prospect of his rowing rivals "gunning" for him during his Paralympic title defence in Tokyo this summer.

Northallerton ace Whiteley was last week officially selected in ParalympicsGB’s team for Japan where he will compete in the mixed double sculls alongside Lauren Rowles.

The duo soared to an unforgettable gold medal at Rio 2016 and are determined to emulate their exploits in the Japanese water come September.

The event has changed radically during the previous Games cycle but Whiteley, who was also crowned world and European champion with Rowles in 2019 and 2021, insists he is buzzing for a tilt at a second consecutive glory.

The 29-year-old, one of more than 1,000 athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, said: “It's an odd one because the sport has undergone a massive change since we last competed at the Games in Rio.

“It has gone from a 1,000m to a 2,000m, so this race distance has literally doubled.

“We're going with a bit of a target on our backs as Paralympic, world and European champions. So I think there's definitely a lot of expectations and pressures on our shoulders.

“But it's definitely one we welcome.

“It's exciting we actually get to race and to compete again, but we're ready for it. I think there is a very good combination between the two of us – there is a lot of speed in our boat and we're very excited to demonstrate out there.

“It's almost like that medal is for us to lose and people will definitely be gunning for us – so it's going to be a good race.”

Whiteley’s career in the water has been fuelled by UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme that allows him train full-time, access the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

And he’s made full use of that backing as he soared to Rio 2016 glory just a solitary year after first rowing with Rowles.

Whiteley and Rowles, 23, toppled the Chinese and French boats in Brazil to catapult themselves to stardom and mark themselves out as the ones to beat in Tokyo.

The North Yorkshire star admits booking his seat on the plane is "crazy" but hopes his Rio experience can stand him in perfect stead for a second tilt at glory this summer.

“It's weird – a second Paralympic Games is crazy,” added Whitley, whose Rio gold was one of 864 Olympic and Paralympic medals won by Great Britain and Northern Ireland athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding in 1997.

“Especially – to state the obvious – after the year that everybody's had and five years since Rio.

“Fortunately, [Lauren and I] have a fantastic working partnership. We also get on really well outside of the sport, and I think that really helps.

“It’s a pinch me, it's real kind of moment and it's strange but exciting.”

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