A season of slog and split-focus has come up trumps for kayaker Luuka Jones after she added to New Zealand’s greatest canoe slalom world championship campaign in France overnight.
A day after missing out on the C1 final, Jones made amends in the K1, reaching the final and finishing fourth. It’s the best finish by a New Zealander at the championships – edging Donald Johnstone’s fifth-place in 1987 – and followed on from Mike Dawson’s seventh in the men’s K1 final a day earlier.
“I was gutted not to make the C1 final yesterday but it was so cool to see Mike make the final yesterday and I took a lot of inspiration from that,” Jones said. “I was happy to get back into a good headspace to make the final, after a really competitive semifinal, and was stoked to finish fourth.”
Australian Jess Fox scraped into the final in 10th spot but then set a withering time of 97.14secs, which ultimately proved unbeatable. Slovakia’s Jana Dukatova was more than four seconds back in 101.76, with 2017’s overall World Cup winner, Germany’s Ricarda Funk, third in 102.62.
Jones picked up two 2sec penalties, finishing 10.06secs behind Fox in 107.20, but was pleasantly surprised by her placing.
“I didn’t think I would be fourth with the run I put down but lots of girls make mistakes – I think they were trying to push and match Jess’s time. I was disappointed with the quality of my run, as I had two touches and felt like I was fighting the water a bit, but fourth is a great result.”
The result showed her silver medal at last year’s Rio Olympics was no aberration and bolstered her ambitions to target both the C1 and K1 in Tokyo in 2020.
It’s been a tough season, trying to balance K1 and C1, but Campbell (coach Campbell Walsh) and I have been experimenting with a different style of training to cater to developing both classes and I think it is working. We based in Pau to give ourselves the best chance of doing well at the worlds and it’s worked out.”
Both Jones and Dawson will now line up in the extreme slalom divisions tonight on the last day of the championship.
Things have come full circle for Kiwi kayaker Mike Dawson, who will embark on his 10th world canoe slalom championship in Pau, France, this week.
The 30-year-old is the veteran in a 10-strong New Zealand team at the championships, having first been to the worlds as an 18-year-old in Australia in 2005.
For most of his lengthy paddling career, which has seen him attend two Olympics, Dawson has successfully combined canoe slalom with creek and expedition paddling, subsidising his Olympic campaigns with extreme race prize money.
Now organisers have come to the party in Pau. For the first time, the ICF has added extreme slalom to the world championship disciplines, where four boats race down the course at once.
After racing the previous nine world championships solely in his K1 boat, being able to break out his plastic creek boat at the worlds is great news for Dawson.
“It’s definitely cool that extreme kayak has been included in the programme this year – it’s something Kiwis have always been traditionally really strong at, it’s a lot of fun and the spectators love it,” Dawson explained. “I’m really happy to get the chance to race in that discipline.”
Dawson’s best world championship finish in the past came in 2014, when he finished 12th in the K1. He was the fastest qualifier for the semifinals a year later in London but eventually finished 28th.
This season, racing extreme for the first time, he collected New Zealand’s first-ever World Cup gold medal at the opening round of the season in Prague, added bronze a week later in Germany, then picked up silver in Spain last month at the season finale. Fellow Kiwi K1 paddler Callum Gilbert will also line up in the extreme slalom this week, with Finn Butcher (K1), Shaun Higgins, Ben Gibb and Patrick Washer (men’s C1) completing the New Zealand men’s contingent.
Luuka Jones, meanwhile, will have her own twin-boat ambitions when the Rio de Janeiro silver medalist lines up in both the K1 and C1 this week.
After her break-out Olympic result in the K1 last year, she took up the C1 class this season to develop her all-round water skills but has quickly found her C1 results overtaking her traditional strength.
She made three World Cup finals this year, including finishing fourth in Germany in the second round of the series, adding sevenths in Italy and Spain. Her best K1 results, meanwhile, were a pair of 12ths to open the season.
“If you’d told me then I would make all but one C1 final I would have been very happy,” Jones said. “There have been a few challenges but overall I’m thrilled how it’s gone so far and I think I am more naturally talented in C1 than K1. There are some things I do more naturally in C1 and there are definitely learnings I can take from C1 into K1, with some of the lines I naturally take, which I could be taking in K1.”
She’ll have young paddlers Kensa Randle and Courtney Williams for company in the K1 class, with Kelly Travers also lining up in the C1.
Dawson said the New Zealanders had learned a lot from their Rio campaign and had applied it to the world champs.
“Luuka, myself and a lot of the Kiwi team have spent a lot of time here building up for the event – it’s something we saw worked really well in Rio so we’ve tried to capitalise on that by making Pau our home base ahead of the worlds,” he explained. “I’m loving paddling here and really enjoying my time on the water – it’s awesome to be in a sport that after 13years you can still have an amazing time at the events.”
Competition starts on Tuesday night (NZ time) at the venue, with most members of the New Zealand squad in action in teams racing, before the men’s K1 and women’s C1 get underway on Wednesday night.
NZ team: Men: Callum Gilbert (BOP), Mike Dawson (BOP), Finn Butcher (Otago). C1: Shaun Higgins (BOP), Patrick Washer (BOP), Ben Gibb (BOP).
Women: K1: Luuka Jones (BOP), Kensa Randle (Otago), Courtney Williams (BOP). C1: Jones, Kelly Travers (Auck).
Luuka Jones again led the New Zealand charge at the final canoe slalom World Cup of the season in Spain, as the sole Kiwi qualifier for the semifinals.
She didn’t have it all her own way on the La Seu d’Urgell course, venue for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, however – needing two C1 qualifying runs and missing the K1 semifinals completely.
“Seu has never been my favourite course and today I got to do do four runs down it,” Jones wryly noted. “I had a pretty bad day on the whole and a long one – I just didn’t paddle well. At least there are some good learnings to take into the world champs in a few weeks and it’s good to be in the C1 semifinals and get another shot tomorrow.”
Jones was 33rd after her first C1 run, with the top-20 progressing straight through, with fellow Kiwis Jane Nicholas 38th and Kelly Travers 47th.
But Jones laid down a clean 119.69sec run in the repechage round to qualify third, behind Brazil’s Ana Satila and Austria’s Nadine Weratschnig. Nicholas was 23rd, while Travers was 28th.
Jones will now be looking to qualify for her third C1 final of the season, in her first year in the kneeling, single-bladed discipline.
“I am feeling pretty consistent in C1 and it’s been great to make two finals so far this season – I’m just hoping to have a better day at the races tomorrow.”
Touches kept the Rio K1 silver medalist out of the K1 semifinals, however – her raw first round time of 106.16sec would’ve been good enough for ninth, except three 2sec penalties dropped her to 28th, with Nicholas 42nd and Courtney Williams a further 10 places back.
And a solitary touch on the 11th gate dropped Jones out of the top-10 progressing from the repechage too, ending up in 15th, with Nicholas 20th and Williams 38th.
It was a similar story in the highly competitive men’s K1, where Mike Dawson had a 94.44sec raw time – good enough for 11th in the first run – but also picked up three touches to drop him all the way back to 48th, a spot behind fellow Kiwi Callum Gilbert, with Finn Butcher 55th.
All three Kiwis came agonisingly close to qualifying in the repechage round, with Butcher 12th – just 0.81secs off the top-10 despite a touch – and Gilbert and Dawson in 17th and 19th respectively, each with two touches.
New Zealand’s C1 male contingent also had a tough day, with Ben Gibb and Shaun Higgins 49th and 53rd in their first runs, and Gibb 2.33secs outside the top-10 in his second run.
Dawson and Butcher, meanwhile, have both qualified for the quarterfinals of the men’s extreme slalom round, which also runs tonight alongside Jones’ C1 semifinal.
Luuka Jones has continued her remarkable C1 rise, finishing seventh at the latest round of the ICF canoe slalom World Cup in Italy.
The Rio Olympic K1 silver medalist’s decision to race both disciplines is already bearing fruit, making her second final in as many rounds and stringing together three solid runs over two days.
Her best run was arguably her semifinal, when she qualified fourth, just 2.93secs behind leader Nadine Weratschnig, in a time of 117.97secs which included a 2sec penalty touch.
She picked up two more touches in the final to finish 22.41secs behind runaway winner, Australian Jess Fox.
“I was really happy with my semi but I went a bit too hard in the final and wasn’t using the water very well,” Jones explained.
It’s another valuable lesson for her as she eyes both C1 and K1 at the Tokyo Olympics and she has another chance of improving in tonight’s K1 semifinals.
“Having already paddled the course twice is an advantage for sure and I’m looking forward to the K1, as paddling it with two blades will be easier in a lot of places!”
Fox brought up her third consecutive C1 World Cup title of 2017 in stunning fashion, posting a time of 100.83 to finish well ahead of Wolffhardt on 111.57, with Czech Tereza Fiserova third.
Czech Vit Prindis also added his third title of the year, winning the K1 men’s final, with his 87.15 time just enough to edge out Michal Smolen (United States) on 87.44. Both paddlers competed in New Zealand last summer at the inaugural Whitewater XL.
Kiwi Mike Dawson had a few issues in his semifinal, finishing 33rd, as a number of top paddlers failed to fire on the tough Ivrea course.
Dawson will also have another chance at redemption tonight, lining up in the extreme slalom heats alongside fellow Kiwi Finn Butcher, with Dawson having won a gold and bronze in his two World Cup outings in that discipline so far this season.
Luuka Jones has capped a big day at the fourth ICF World Cup canoe slalom round of the season, making the semifinals in both the C1 and K1 classes in Italy overnight.
The Olympic K1 silver medalist will be joined in the semifinals by her Rio teamate Mike Dawson, who squeaked into the men’s K1 top-40 by the skin of his teeth.
The natural course at Ivrea, near Turin, saw some fast times on the opening day, with Jones 11.48secs behind Austria’s Corinna Kuhnle, in qualifying 10th-fastest in the K1.
That was more a mark of Kuhnle’s performance, however – her time of 91.67secs shocked her opponents, with two-time Olympic medallist Jessica Fox (Australia) next fastest in 97.69 and Jones in a tight cluster of five paddlers all within a second of each other.
Her C1 heat performance was a little more varied – having added the kneeling, single-bladed class to her repertoire this year, Jones was off in her first heat, missing two gates and finishing 35th, with fellow Kiwi Jane Nicholas 29th.
Jones came storming back in the repechage heat, however, clocking the fastest time of 123.65sec to comfortably progress.
Nicholas was 12th in her second run, just off the top-10 who went through, while her K1 repechage was even more agonising, finishing 11th, just 1.01secs from making her first World Cup semifinal. The third K1 Kiwi, Courtney Williams, was 47th in her first run and 28th in her second run.
Dawson, meanwhile, needed all his race smarts to get through in the K1. He picked up a touch on the 18th gate in his first run, which dropped him out of the top-30 automatically qualifying, and another touch in his repechage. His 93.19sec time in the latter run put him inside the top-10 by just 0.06secs, with Slovakian Radoslav Miko 11th in 93.25.
Fellow Kiwi Finn Butcher was 54th in his first run and 20th in his second, with Callum Gilbert 52nd in his first run and 27th in his second. New Zealand’s C1 men’s contingent had a tough day, with Ben Gibb clocking 113.03secs to finish 43rd in his first run, but then he and Shaun Higgins missed gates in their subsequent runs to miss progressing.