A brilliant paddle from Alexandra’s Finn Butcher highlighted the second day of the ICF junior and under-23 canoe slalom world championships in Poland overnight.
Butcher, 21, stormed into the semifinals of the under-23 K1 with a 78.95sec time, bettered only by reigning open world champion Jiri Prskavec (Czech Republic).
Butcher’s dream run came after a frustrating start to his season and provided a massive confidence boost.
“I knew that a solid run would be good enough to qualify today, and I wanted to be through on that crucial first cut to avoid the repechage,” Butcher explained. “Because of my ranking and my place in the start-order, I only needed to finish inside the top-16 to safely qualify but to see first position come up when I finished – knowing I was more than a second up on some pretty quick paddlers – was an awesome feeling. It was crazy to watch Olympians and world medalists come down and slot in behind me.”
Fellow Kiwi Callum Gilbert was just 4.42secs behind Prskavec in 10th, despite touching a gate right near the end of his run and incurring a 2sec penalty. The top-30 went straight through to Friday’s semifinals, along with another 10 from the second heat.
Prskavec has had an incredible 12 months – he created history by winning the under-23 and open world titles in 2015, then headed Olympic silver medalist Vavra Hradilek to win the Czech Olympic spot in Rio.
But Butcher has made steady progress, making his first world cup semifinal last season and repeating that effort in Italy at the start of this season, although he’s subsequently struggled to get a feel for the water.
After consulting with New Zealand coach Aaron Osborne, Butcher came up with a plan for his run and executed it perfectly.
“The course was fun and didn’t have too much in it to worry about, bar one move in the middle where there was a spin or direct option. Callum and I opted for the direct which worked for us, and I was pretty stoked that I had the confidence to pull it off when the pressure was on.”
There was further good news for the Kiwi contingent in the junior K1 division, where Rotorua’s Zack Mutton qualified 24th and Callum Aitken 27th in their first round, despite a handful of touches between them.
Mutton’s raw time of 85.99secs would have been good enough for fourth overall, without the 10secs worth of time penalties he picked up.
Kelly Travers and Kaydi O’Connor-Stratton, meanwhile, also had gate trouble in the under-23 C1 division, with seven touches in her second run costing Travers a semifinal spot.
O’Connor-Stratton will have another chance when tonight’s women’s K1 heats begin, alongside Anna Higgins and Courtney Williams, while Kensa Randle will be New Zealand’s sole representative in the junior K1.