Luuka Jones showed her pursuit of a Tokyo Olympic double is no folly after a storming opening to the second ICF World Cup canoe slalom round of the season in Germany overnight.
Jones qualified for the semifinals in both the C1 and K1 classes for the first time in her career. While the Olympic K1 silver medalist was solid in qualifying 14th in that division, she shocked herself by qualifying fourth-fastest in the C1 (canoe) class in her first season competing.
“I was stoked to finish fourth mostly because it was a good time and really competitive,” Jones said. “Because I haven’t been paddling it for very long, I didn’t know what to expect so I guess I was a bit surprised to finish so high up but it’s just really positive and shows I’m heading in the right direction.”
The C1 women’s class was recently added to the 2020 Olympic programme. Competitors kneel in their canoe boats with a single-bladed paddle, as opposed to sitting in K1 kayaks with a double-bladed paddle.
Jones hit two gates on the way down the Augsburg course in her C1 run, picking up 4secs’ worth of time penalties, but her 120.81sec time was just 5.59secs behind top qualifier Kimberly Woods (Great Britain), who has swept all before her in the women’s C1 this year, winning the European title and then the opening World Cup last weekend.
Double world champion Australian Jess Fox was second-fastest in 118.02, ahead of Spain’s Nuria Vilarrubla in 118.89.
Jones also picked up two touches in her opening K1 run but held it together to post a 108.39sec time, just 5.20secs behind leader Mallory Franklin (Great Britain).
“I had a massive touch on gate 2 and the poles were swinging and it wasn’t a really good start to the run but overall it was solid. I guess I had a pretty fast time considering that it felt a bit off the whole way down – I’m pretty happy with how the day went and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Fellow Kiwis Jane Nicholas and Kensa Randle finished 45th and 60th respectively in their first K1 runs, both improving in their second runs but missing the semifinals.
Alexandra’s Finn Butcher was the only New Zealand male to progress to the semifinals, meanwhile, although he needed to break a second-run drought to do it.
Mike Dawson was the fastest Kiwi in the first run of the K1 in 37th, with Callum Gilbert 41st, but Butcher picked up a controversial 50sec penalty for missing a gate.
“I smashed gate three with the edge of my boat and it sent the pole flying,” Butcher explained. “It swung in an unfortunate direction and I picked up a half-head and a 50sec.”
For the first time at World Cup level, however, Butcher qualified through the repechage second run, with his 98.84sec time good enough for ninth, with the top-10 joining the top-30 from the first heat. He’s enjoying the Augsburg course, which reminds him of his home Kawerau River in Central Otago.
“In the semifinal, I just want to race my race – I’ve been trying to focus on letting myself be free and unleash on the course. The big names are all there but in K1 men’s now, there’s a lot of people in the semifinal that can pull out a run and smash it.”
Dawson, who made the semifinal in last week’s first World Cup in the Czech Republic, finished 27th in his second run and Gilbert 43rd.
Dawson will instead turn his attention to tonight’s extreme slalom division, having won gold – and New Zealand’s first-ever World Cup canoe slalom medal – in that event last week.
Gilbert and Patrick Washer also paddled the men’s C1, with neither progressing amid tough competition led by Slovenia’s Benjamin Savsek.
Caption: Luuka Jones has made a breakthrough in the C1 division on the ICF World Cup series overnight. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media