A jubilant Callum Gilbert joined the top echelon of canoe slalom paddlers for the first time, making the semifinals of the third world cup of the season in Slovakia.
The 19-year-old Tauranga paddler stormed into the top-40 with a 93.00sec effort in his second heat, joining fellow Kiwi and Olympian Mike Dawson in qualifying through the repechage round.
Capping a classic day for the New Zealand contingent, Luuka Jones also made her first semifinal of the season in the women’s K1.
Gilbert missed a gate in his first run, picking up a 50sec time penalty, and was a distant 77th but his time was good enough for fourth-fastest in the second round.
“Making a world cup semifinal has been a goal of mine for a while so it’s really cool to have achieved that,” Gilbert said. “My second run definitely wasn’t perfect and there are still a few mistakes I’d like to fix but tomorrow is a fresh start – I just want to put down a good run and see where I’m at.”
Dawson, who missed the second world cup last week while winning an extreme race in Norway, took a while to get his slalom rhythm back but did so in style in the second round. Despite picking up a 2sec penalty for touching a gate, he clocked 92.84secs.
His raw time of 90.84 would’ve been enough to break into the top-10 of all qualifiers, although he was more delighted with being able to share a semifinal with another Kiwi.
“It was so cool to see Callum step up and put together a great run under pressure, to get into his first semifinal – as a senior paddler now, it’s great to see the young guys stepping up,” Dawson said. “I’m excited about racing my semifinal – I had a competitive time, despite a lot of mistakes, and now it’s time to have some fun.”
Jones, meanwhile, hasn’t made the last two world cup semifinals because of missed gates but wasn’t making that mistake today. She was the sixth-fastest in the second round, finishing in 105.35 after a clear run.
“I’ve been finding it hard to put down good runs over the last two weeks and to get into the right mental space,” Jones said. “It was definitely a relief and I’m looking forward to take what I learned today and use it in my semifinal on Sunday.”
New Zealand-based Cook Islands paddler Ella Nicholas was 20th in her second round, while another New Zealander, Haylee Dangen, was 30th.
Ben Gibb also went close to making the semifinals of the C1 men, finishing just over a second outside the top-30, in 35th spot.
The men’s K1 semifinal is overnight, while Jones will race the women’s semifinal tomorrow night.