Young New Zealand kayaker Callum Gilbert again led the charge in the third ICF canoe slalom World Cup of the season in France.
For the third week in a row, the Tauanga 20-year-old qualified for the top-40 semifinals in the K1 division, cruising through his heat to qualify 20th overall.
He’ll be joined, for the second week in a row, by Rio-bound Olympian Luuka Jones, although New Zealand’s top K1 woman needed a repechage to get through to the semifinals.
Gilbert was understandably jubilant, not just with his clear 102.25sec time down the tricky Pau Pyrénées Whitewater Stadium course, but with the consistency he’s been able to show.
“It was a real focus of mine this year to try and paddle more consistently and paddle within my ability and that’s what I’ve been doing,” Gilbert said. “It’s pretty epic to see that my runs are good enough to make these semifinals, and three in a row is more than I had hoped for. The course was a bit tricker than the heats courses of the last two weeks, which was demonstrated when a lot of the really good guys were making mistakes and not making the cut, so I’m so stoked to be racing again tomorrow.”
Mike Dawson, who will be attending his second Olympics in Rio, was one of those to miss the cut, just 0.45secs adrift after his first run and picking up four 2sec penalties to ruin his repechage run. Fellow K1 paddler Finn Butcher also struggled in the fast-flow, though his 105.80 repechage was only 1.75secs off sneaking through.
Jones, meanwhile, comfortably qualified in her second run despite touching a gate, finishing her repechage in sixth with the top-10 progressing after overcoming a horror first heat.
“I had a brutal first run and blew out the third gate,” Jones said. “I laid down a solid run in the repechage – it was nothing special but enough to get through. I’ve got everything to play for in the semifinals and it was cool to see Callum get through again as well.”
Jane Nicholas and Anna Higgins were 39th and 43rd in their first runs and 25th and 49th in the repechage.
The Kiwi canoe contingent posted some encouraging results – Kelly Travers came within two touches of making a second semifinal appearance in the C1 women’s heats and was in the mix in the repechage, with Nicholas right on her heels, while Patrick Washer and Ben Gibb finished 31st and 35th in the first round of the C1 men, fading slightly in the repechage.
Gilbert will race his K1 semifinal tonight (NZ time), with Jones attacking the women’s semifinals tomorrow.