Olympic kayakers Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones will kick-start their Rio de Janeiro campaign at the Canoe Slalam New Zealand national championships in Manawatu this weekend.
The pair will be hot favourites in the senior K1 races on the Mangahao River starting on Saturday, with Dawson chasing his ninth national title and Jones her sixth.
But the real focus for the pair is the world championships in London in September, where they’ll try to automatically qualify two boats for next year’s Olympics in Brazil.
“We’ve definitely stepped up our training for this year and it’s paying off,” Dawson said. “I’ve also spent a lot of time in Sydney and Abu Dhabi training – it’s something I haven’t been able to do for the last few years because of injury so I’m really interested to see how much difference a good off-season is going to make. It gets complicated if we don’t qualify at worlds but the goal is to perform at world. The Olympic selection is kind of irrelevant if we perform to the level we want.”
Both paddlers will head to Europe later this month to compete in the world cup circuit, with Jones basing herself once again in Nottingham, England, after a heavy Southern Hemisphere summer training, honing her technique and enjoying the benefits of a new dynamic weights program.
“I feel like things are tracking well with less than 500 days to go,” Jones said. “I have a solid plan, a really amazing team and I’m looking forward to a big year. 2015 is all about refining my processes for 2016, with the aim of sitting on the start line in Rio having left nothing to chance and nothing behind.”
The nationals will run for three days, finishing on Monday, with Dawson and Jones both using the championships to get race-fit in a range of disciplines.
Dawson’s main rivals will be a trio of under-23 paddlers – Callum Gilbert, Finn Butcher and Malcolm Gibson – who are all heading to the world junior championships in Brazil next week.
“They should be at the top of their game, whereas I’m definitely training through this block. It will be a great opportunity for them to test out their preparation and for me to try and stay ahead of them.”
Ironically, two-time Olympian Jones will also be measuring herself against the same male paddlers, after missing nationals last year with training commitments.
“It’s not a race I am targeting at all but at the same time I want to paddle well. There are some good girls coming through who will be racing hard for the title and I’m throwing out a challenge to the younger boys to see how many of them I can beat!”