Australian Jess Fox showed her undeniable kayaking class, while a tiny slip cost Luuka Jones dearly at the Oceania canoe slalom championships in Auckland today.
Fox picked up a 2sec penalty in the women’s K1 final but still finished more than a second clear of France’s Nouria Newman at the Vector Wero Whitewater Park in Manukau.
Her winning time was 98.37secs, with Newman 1.32secs behind and another Australian, Kate Eckhardt, clocking 101.34 for third.
Jones, who beat Fox to the silver medal at the Rio Olympics last year, picked up an early touch, then missed the penultimate gate by the slimmest of margins to drop from the third-fastest raw time to 10th, a place behind fellow Kiwi Jane Nicholas.
Fox, the 2014 world champion in both K1 and C1, relished the small but talented field, which also featured 2009 world champion Jasmin Schornberg (Germany), who finished fifth.
“I was a bit more aggressive in the final and it didn’t feel as flowy as my semifinal but I pulled a lot harder in the straight sections,” Fox said. “It wasn’t a perfect run but I was happy with how I raced.”
This is the 22-year-old’s first time racing at Vector Wero, which has been open for less than a year, and she’s delighted the Southern Hemisphere has another world-class canoe slalom venue.
“It’s been good to come out and discover a new course – it’s really challenging and we needed a few sessions to get used to it – but technically I’ve improved on downstream stopper moves and I’m looking forward to racing here again.”
Both Fox and Jones have qualified for tomorrow’s C1 semifinals, with Fox rating the Kiwi’s decision to take up both disciplines.
“I’ve loved doing both but what’s hard is splitting your sessions. It’s hard to find the half-half balance but I think Luuka is going to be really good. She hasn’t been paddling C1 that long and I’m really impressed by her paddling so with more more, regular practice, she’ll just keep on improving and be up there with the best in the world.”
Meanwhile, Great Britain’s Ryan Westley capped a dream trip to New Zealand with victory in the men’s C1 final, posting a clean run of 90.00secs. Slovakia’s silver medalist in Rio, Matej Benus, also had a clean run but was 0.91secs behind Westley, who was the European under-23 champion last year.
Westley has been training with fellow Englishman Joe Clarke, the Rio K1 gold medalist, with both paddlers spending time training in Rotorua over the last month.
“To be able to come out on top of a field like that is really, really cool,” Westley said. “This course is similar to a lot of the ones we get back in Europe ad I felt like I’d figured it out a bit this week. It’s been a pretty good way to end my month in New Zealand – I’ve had an awesome time and this just finishes it off.”
Ian Borrows was the leading Oceania paddler, with the Australian clocking 99.35secs to finish sixth, ahead of eighth-placed compatriot Tristan Carter and leading Kiwi Ben Gibb, who finished 10th.
Tomorrow’s action sees the women’s C1 semifinals start at 8.45am, followed by the men’s K1 semifinals, with the finals from 11am.
Oceania canoe slalom championships
(Vector Wero Whitewater Park, Auckland)
C1 men: Ryan Westley (Great Britain) 90.00 1, Matej Benus (Slovakia) 90.91 2, Martin Thomas (France) 91.86 3, Pierre-Antoine Tillard (France) 92.45 4, Zachary Lokken (United States) 97.68 5, Ian Borrows (Australia) 99.35 6, Edern Le Ruyet (France) 101.23 7, Tristan Carter (Australia) 101.50 8, Tyler Smith (United States) 109.31 9, Ben Gibb (New Zealand) 111.32 10.
K1 women: Jessica Fox (Australia) 98.37 1, Nouria Newman (France) 99.69 2, Kate Eckhardt (Australia) 101.34 3, Camille Prigent (France) 105.50 4, Jasmin Schornberg (Germany) 105.94 5, Veronika Vojtova (Czech Republic) 106.90 6, Noemie Fox (Australia) 109.88 7, Amber Maslen (Great Britain) 123.17 8, Jane Nicholas (New Zealand) 136.19 9, Luuka Jones (New Zealand) 152.09 10.