Luuka Jones has made the ideal start to her Olympic canoe slalom campaign, storming into the semifinals at her first World Cup event of the season.
The Tauranga K1 paddler, who will compete at her third Olympic Games in Rio, skipped last week’s opening World Cup in Italy to get in more training on the La Seu D’Urgell in Spain.
It paid off in style, with Jones qualifying seventh-fastest for Sunday’s semifinals, just over a second behind Spain’s top-ranked Maialen Chourraut on her home course.
Jones clocked a clean 100.14sec run, with only 3.33secs separating the top-20 automatic qualifiers.
“It was quite an open course so I knew that times were going to be tight – I had to lay down a good run to make the semifinals straight off and not have to race the repechage,” Jones explained. “I was happy with how it came together – I haven’t raced a big race in a while so to go out there so to go out there and put down a solid run and finish pretty high up was a good confidence booster.”
Fellow Kiwis Jane Nicholas and Anna Higgins missed the semifinals, as did Nicholas’ sister Ella, competing for the Cook Islands.
Jones expects Sunday’s semifinal course to be significantly harder, though she’s relishing anything it can throw at her. She’s also looking forward to seeing young New Zealand paddler Callum Gibert paddle his second consecutive semifinal in the men’s K1 division.
Gilbert, fresh from his best World Cup result last week in Italy when he finished 24th, qualified after completing a clear repechage run.
Teammate Finn Butcher was the fastest Kiwi in the first run, with only a 2sec touch on the 19th of 22 gates stopping him qualifying directly for the semifinals. Butcher’s 94.14sec time was just 0.81secs outside of the top-30 who went straight through, though the penalty was enough to drop him to 39th.
Gilbert was 50th after the first run in 95.49, though improved dramatically in his second run to clock 90.27, the fifth-fastest second run time and well ahead of paddlers like triple world champion and Beijing Olympic gold medalist Alexander Grimm (Germany) in ninth and reigning Olympic silver medalist Vavrinec Hradilek (Czech Republic) who was 16th.
Butcher picked up three touches in his second run to finish 31st, with only the top-10 progressing. Tauranga’s Daniel Tuiraviravi, competing for Fiji, was 80th and 50th in his two runs respectively.
Ben Gibb was the best of the canoe contingent, meanwhile, with a 102.27sec second run landing him in 15th, with the top-10 progressing. Patrick Washer was 21st, while Jane Nicholas and Kelly Travers struggled to keep pace with the top women C1 paddlers.
Gilbert will race his semifinal tonight, with Jones having a day off before her next race.
See more photos of the Kiwis in action here!