Young canoe slalom star Callum Gilbert recorded the best World Cup finish of his fledgling career overnight, finishing 24th in the first round of the season in Italy.
The 20-year-old Tauranga K1 paddler, appearing in just his second semifinal at that level, managed a clean 94.79sec run on the tricky Dora Baltea River course in Ivrea. Although only the top-10 progressed to the final, Gilbert was delighted with his effort.
“I was focusing on being smooth and clean in the semifinal and I’m really happy with how it went,” Gilbert said. “There are definitely a few areas to improve on within the run but, as a whole, I’m stoked with where my paddling is at, at this stage of the season.”
Fellow Kiwi Finn Butcher had four touches and 8secs worth of penalties in his run, finishing 37th overall.
Giovanni De Gennaro and Daniele Molmenti delighted the home crowds in the final, meanwhile, as the Italian pair took gold and silver, despite having just scraped into the top-10.
Molmenti, the 2012 Olympic champion, qualified 9th in the semifinal while De Gennaro was 10th, just over 3secs in front of Gilbert’s time.
It all came right in the final for the hosts, however, with De Gennaro’s 90.13sec time – which included a touch – standing until the very end and earning the 23-year-old his first World Cup gold.
Poland’s Dariusz Popiela rounded out the podium with a clean run that secured bronze.
Michal Jane (Czech Republic) won the C1 men’s final, ahead of Switzerland’s Thomas Koechlin, while Australia’s Jessica Fox continued her dominance in the C1 women’s final.
Next week’s second World Cup in Spain will see Olympian Luuka Jones join the New Zealand team, after skipping Italy, with C1 paddler Kelly Travers also arriving from Auckland. Gilbert, Butcher, C1 paddlers Ben Gibb and Patrick Washer and K1 women Jane Nicholas and Anna Higgins will back up from World Cup 1, while top-ranked Kiwi Mike Dawson will skip Spain and rejoin the team in France a week later.