by Jamie Troughton
A brilliant paddle from New Zealand kayaker Mike Dawson has put him in pole position at the canoe slalom world championships in London.
The Tauranga 28-year-old clocked the fastest time of the day on the tough Lee Valley course, with his 81.28sec effort heading an illustrious lineup of the best slalom exponents on the planet. It put him straight into Sunday’s semifinal, in a great position to qualify a boat for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“That was one of the best runs I’ve had in a long time and the cool thing was that I just tried to have fun,” Dawson said. “Everything went just as planned and it just felt great – even if I was slower, I would’ve still been happy with how it felt.”
Left in his wake were previous world champions Vavrinec Hradilek (16th qualifier), Peter Kauzer (14th) and reigning Olympic champion Daniele Molmenti (19th). Defending champion champion Boris Neveu (France) missed the top-30 cut after the first round and had to qualify through the repechage round, while others like top Australian Lucien Delfour missed the semifinals completely.
Alexandra’s Finn Butcher nearly made it an even sweeter day for the New Zealand team, picking up a 2sec penalty for touching a gate and finishing an agonising 12th in the second run, just 0.47secs off the top-10 finish he needed to progress.
The result means that both New Zealand Olympians have made the weekend, with Luuka Jones racing her women’s K1 semifinal tomorrow. Jones and Dawson need to finish in the top-15 nations to qualify spots for Rio, with athletes from 17 countries making the women’s semifinal and 22 nations represented in the men’s top-40.
Such is the relaxed state he’s in, Dawson admitted he wasn’t even thinking about what he needs to do to qualify – he just wants to go out and experience the feeling of another pure run.
“I’d love to go to Rio – that would mean a lot to me – but at the same time it’s not the end of the world if I don’t make it. I’m just learning that the more I trust myself to paddle, the better it is and the more fun it is. After that, the times start to reflect that. That’s a lesson – be confident and belong here.”
The other New Zealander in action today was Callum Gibert, who picked up four penalties in his first run and another two in the repechage to dip out of contention.
Fellow Tauranga-based paddlers Bryden Nicholas, racing for the Cook Islands, and Daniel Tuiraviravi (Fiji) finished 99th and 80th respectively in the first heat but both improved substantially in their second paddles, with Nicholas 36th and Tuiraviravi 56th.
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