Kiwi kayaker Luuka Jones has made a great start to her World Cup canoe slalom campaign, easing through to the semifinals in both the K1 and C1 in Prague overnight.
The Rio Olympic K1 silver medalist will be joined in the semifinals by fellow Olympian Mike Dawson, who squeezed through to the men’s K1 semifinals amidst intense competition.
Jones, in her first season racing the C1 (canoe) division, started slowly in the windy conditions, picking up three 2sec penalties in her first C1 heat to lie in 25th position, more than 25secs behind Austrian Nadine Weratschnig’s fastest time. But she stormed back to win the repechage heat, taking 15secs off her previous time to qualify 21st for tonight’s semifinal.
She then took things up a notch in her K1 (kayak) heat, posting a flawless time of 91.48secs in seventh spot, just 3.83secs behind top qualifier Stefanie Horn (Italy).
“I was definitely a bit shaky with my first C1 run, unsure about how to do some of the moves and made a big mistake at the bottom of the course,” Jones explained. “It did seem like shaking out the cobwebs as the next run felt solid and I was happy to put down a decent time. The C1 made my K1 run feel quite easy though and the times were tight so to be in the top-10 was a good day.”
Fellow Kiwis Jane Nicholas and Kensa Randle found things tougher, finishing 51st and 53rd in their K1 first heat and 31st and 32nd in the repechage, while Nicholas finished 19th in the second round of the C1.
The men’s contingent found things even harder, with Dawson, Finn Butcher and Callum Gilbert all well back in the first heat of the K1, after the ICF allowed all competitors a full practice run on the course. Butcher’s clean 82.89sec run was the fastest of the Kiwis and although he was only 5.16secs behind leader Lucien Delfour (Australia), it was still only good enough for 34th overall.
Dawson adjusted best for the second run, however, snatching the 10th and final qualifying spot by just 0.16secs with a clean 83.92sec run.
“The course is mint but the gates weren’t too challenging, while the practice run made things even tighter with the European paddlers all firing and hungry to start their season well,” Dawson said. “I made a couple of mistakes but it was good to get through.”
Gilbert and Patrick Washer also raced the men’s C1, with Gilbert 45th after the first round and Washer 57th after missing a gate, then Washer picked up two penalties in his second run to finish 30th, while Gilbert had one touch for 107.34 and 36th.
Jones, meanwhile, is looking forward to tonight’s C1 semifinals despite nursing a rib injury she picked up earlier in the week.
“The course is really tricky for the C1 semifinal – we’ve just spent over an hour at the course deciding how to approach the race and think of the best way to do the gates. It will certainly be interesting!”