At 24, Jane Nicholas has no right to be called a veteran – but all of a sudden, she’s the old head in the New Zealand canoe slalom team tackling the third ICF World Cup of the season in Markkleeberg, Germany, this weekend.
With Olympians Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones skipping this round of the series, after impressive performances in the first two World Cups, Nicholas has assumed the elder statesman role. She joins a clutch of under-23 athletes, including 22-year-old Finn Butcher, 21-year-old Callum Gilbert, 20-year-old Alex Hawthorne and 19-year-olds Courtney Williams and Patrick Washer in the six-strong team.
Like Gilbert, Nicholas will compete in both C1 and K1 classes this weekend, with women’s C1 having recently been added to the Tokyo Olympic programme.
“Juggling C1 and K1 is certainly not easy – it takes a physical and mental toll on the day of qualifying, especially if you don’t make the semifinals in your first runs. It means you have to do four runs, which can make for a long day at the office.”
Not that she’s adverse to long days in the office. Like her older siblings, Cook Island Olympians Bryden and Ella, Nicholas is a doctor, having completed six years of study in Dunedin and Christchurch and having moved home to the Bay of Plenty to work in Tauranga Hospital.
She’s taken three months off to compete in the five World Cups, basing herself in Pau in France, and is relishing the chance to chase her passion without compromising her career.
“Full-time work is definitely as it states – full-time – and it can be pretty mentally draining. Training around this takes serious motivation and dedication and the toughest time to stay motivated is working 12 days in a row and trying to keep the quality in my training, not just quantity. There was definitely an adjustment phase once I started work but I’ve managed to figure out what training I can and can’t feasibly fit into my week.”
She’s hopeful she can take time off again next year as well, with a four-year plan in place to try and emulate her older siblings and become an Olympic athlete, although unlike them, she’s keen to do it as a Kiwi.
Nicholas has been racing internationally since 2010, with a best World Cup finish of 18th in the C1 in London in 2014.
This will be Hawthorne’s first crack at this level, however, as he builds up for the under-23 world championships in Slovakia next month.
“I’m very excited to race and I just want to lay down a run that is the best I can and see how I compare,” Hawthorne said. “If I can race smart and be free of penalties, I will be happy.”
Racing starts tonight, with qualifying in both C1 and K1, with Markkleeberg – a town on the outskirts of the city of Leipzig – hosting its first World Cup event since 2011.
The men’s K1 has been dominated by Czech Vit Prindis, the only athlete with a perfect record after two World Cups. In the C1, Germany’s Sideris Tasiadis and Slovakia’s Matej Benus have shared gold and silver at Prague and Augsburg.
The spoils in the women’s C1 have been shared by Great Britain’s Kimberley Woods and Australia’s Jessica Fox, although both athletes failed to even make the final on the week they didn’t win gold.
The Markkleeberg course was built as part of Leipzig’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics. The site is part of a massive former coal mining area, where the pits have been reclaimed and turned into popular lakes and waterways.