Kayakers Finn Butcher and Callum Gilbert will head a 16-strong New Zealand challenge at the canoe slalom under-23 and junior world championships in Bratislava, Slovakia, beginning tonight.
The K1 pair have been regular ICF World Cup semifinalists over recent season and Alexandra’s Butcher (15th) and Tauranga’s Gilbert (18th) were just single penalties away from making the top-10 final in the under-23 division last year.
They’ll be joined this week by 16-year-old Rotorua paddler Zack Mutton, who grabbed an impressive 19th in the junior semifinals last year, plus under-23 K1 paddlers Alex Hawthorne, Courtney Williams and Kensa Randle, who all have recent World Cup experience. James Thwaite and Patrick Washer will also join Gilbert in racing under-23 C1.
Juniors Callum Aitken and Damian Torwick (men’s K1), Claudia Paterson, Annie Wardle and Casey Hales (women’s K1) and Jack Egan, Josh Bell and Stewart Bloor (men’s C1) complete the team.
They’ll join more than 400 athletes from close to 50 countries, including Olympic medallists and finalists, at the championship.
Heading the honour board is two-time Olympic medallist and multiple world champion, Australia’s Jessica Fox, who is competing at her final under age worlds. Fox is certain to be challenged by British duo Kimberley Woods and Mallory Franklin, Brazil’s Ana Satila and Austria’s Viktoria Wolffhardt, who have all been prominent at this year’s K1 World Cups.
Olympic finalist Jakub Grigar will need hometown support in the under-23 men’s K1 to help him take on a strong field which includes junior world champion Mario Leitner (Austria) and 2016 under-23 champion Ruslan Pestov (Ukraine).
The championships begin tonight with men’s C1 heats.
New Zealand team:
Under-23: K1 men: Callum Gilbert, Alex Hawthorne, Finn Butcher. K1 women: Courtney Williams, Kensa Randle. C1 men: James Thwaite, Patrick Washer, Callum Gilbert.
Junior: K1 men: Callum Aitken, Zack Mutton, Damian Torwick. K1 women: Claudia Paterson, Annie Wardle, Casey Hales. C1 men: Jack Egan, Josh Bell, Stewart Bloor.