Alexandria paddler Finn Butcher led a strong New Zealand charge at the fourth canoe slalom world cup of the season in Spain overnight.
Butcher qualified for his first semifinal at world cup level, reaching the top-40 in the K1 division after finishing 28th in the first qualifying run.
Olympians Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones also made it through, although both needed strong performances in the repechage round to book semifinal spots.
“I was pretty stoked to make it on the first cut so I didn’t have to worry about the second run,” 20-year-old Butcher, who is studying a Otago University, said. “I’ve had a long campaign this season, which has made for a pretty tough mental battle. I knew I could perform well enough to make the semis but I just haven’t been able to get the consistency to lay it down so I changed my planning slightly and it all paid off.”
Butcher’s qualifying time on the tricky Parc Olímpic del Segre course – venue for the 1992 Olympics – was 93.36secs, just 4.77secs off the leading times, and it included a 2sec time penalty for touching gate 11. This is just his sixth wold cup event, after competing twice last year and in all three previous world cups this season. He also represented New Zealand at this year’s under-23 world championships in Brazil.
Dawson’s first run was rusty, in comparison, after the 28-year-old London Olympian returned from winning the Malabar River Festival extreme race crown in India last week. He clocked 96.46 with a penalty touch but stormed back in his second run with a clean 91.28 effort. That would’ve been good enough for 13th in the first run and sets him up for a crack at his second (top-10) final of the season when he and Butcher race tonight’s semifinals.
Tauranga’s Callum Gilbert, who made the semifinals of the last world cup in Slovakia, picked up five touches in his first round to lie in 60th, but had a clean second run to finish just 1.34secs away from emulating that feat.
Jones, meanwhile, picked up a touch on the third gate of her first run to finish one spot out of the top-20 automatic qualifiers, recording 105.39.
The 24-year-old double Olympian was solid in her second run, however, finishing fifth to comfortably make it through to tomorrow’s semifinals.
Jane Nicholas was the next best of the Kiwi contingent, finishing 26th in the second run, although she was three places behind her older sister Ella, who is representing the Cook Islands.
Ben Gibb finished 17th in his C1 repechage, with the top-10 making it through, with Shaun Higgens 5secs back in 26th, while Jane Nicholas was seventh in her C1 repechage – the top-five making it through – and Kelly Travers 10th.
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