Kiwi camp key for champion UK kayaker

British canoe slalom star Joe Clarke (left) and New Zealand’s Mike Dawson on the Whataroa River on the South Island’s West Coast. Mandatory credit: Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

A season that started on the West Coast of New Zealand has turned to Rio gold for British kayaker Joe Clarke.
Clarke won the K1 canoe slalom crown at the at the Whitewater Stadium in Deodoro X-Park today in a time of 88.53 seconds, ahead of Peter Kauzer (Slovenia) and Jiri Prskavec (Czech Republic), with New Zealand’s Mike Dawson finishing 10th in 93.07.
Earlier this year, Clarke and Dawson launched their Olympic campaign with an extreme training camp deep in the Southern Alps, recreating a slalom course on the Whataroa River south of Hokitika.  They helicoptered into a remote gorge, amid the giant boils and schist boulders of the grade-5 Grand Finale rapid, 11km up from Whataroa’s main street and set up slalom gates with home-made plastic poles and twine.
The aim was to recreate the mental pressures they would both face in Rio, substituting the massive crowd noise and public expectation for the roar of the glacier-fed rapids and the crucial life-and-death moves that needed to be made.
“You have to think about taking the right lines with rocks that you don’t normally have to consider on a slalom course and we’re in the middle of this massive gorge so if something goes wrong, you’re on your own,” Clarke said of the camp. “That teaches you a lot about focus, because what we did in there was different every single day and nothing on the river remains the same.”
All that focus paid off today, with a dream final run.
“I wanted to build through the rounds. I had a very good qualification, second (in the heats) and third in the semifinals and then I knew that at the right time it would come naturally. I kind of just held it all together and came away with the gold medal. I have so many amazing memories of this sport and this just tops all of them in one day.”
Dawson was delighted for Clarke, while he was also pleased to improve from his 15th-placing at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“I was so happy to be in the final and get the opportunity to race – it was a high-quality field and it was humbling to be a part of it,” the 29-year-old said. “It was the first time I’ve put together four clean runs in a row, which was pretty surprising.”
As well as his Whataroa trip, Dawson made headlines this year for other unique facets in his buildup – he produced a cookbook to help fund time on the Rio course and also launched a campaign to help feed the homeless in favelas around the venue in recent weeks.
He’s also got one more date at the course tomorrow, with a fellow Kiwi in action in the K1 women’s semifinals.
“I’ll be back here tomorrow to cheer Luuka Jones on – she’s in pretty good form so it will be good to see how she goes.”
Clarke is hoping to head back to New Zealand for November’s inaugural WhitewaterXL event at the new Vector Wero Whitewater Park. Newly-crowned Olympic C1 champion Denis Gargaud Chanut (France) has already confirmed his attendance, with Dawson, Jones and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Vavra Hradilek acting as event ambassadors.


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