Olympians Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson have made strong starts to their individual campaigns at the canoe slalom world championships in Pau, France, overnight.
A day after teams racing, Jones kick-started her busiest-ever world championships with a solid C1 heats run, qualifying for the semifinals in 12th spot with a time of 101.67secs.
That put her 6.15secs behind Great Britain’s top qualifier Mallory Franklin, despite Jones picking up a touch and 2sec penalty on gate 18.
Getting off to a good start was doubly important for Jones, considering she may have to race every day of the week-long championship.
“My goal was to qualify in the first rounds to eliminate a few runs over the week,” Jones explained. “I’m racing six days in a row – it’s a pretty busy schedule racing C1, K1, K1 teams and the boatercross (extreme slalom). It was a good day at the races – so far, so good – and hopefully I can qualify in K1 on the first run tomorrow as well.”
Fellow Kiwi Kelly Travers was 35th after her first run, picking up five touches, and was on track for a fast time in her second run but picked up another 14secs’ worth of penalties.
Dawson, meanwhile, had to battle a record field of more than 100 paddlers in the men’s K1 heats but put together a clear 81.02sec run, leaving him just 3.12secs behind top qualifier and Olympic champion Joe Clarke (Great Britain) in 16th spot.
“The course we raced on wasn’t super-difficult which meant the times were extremely tight, there wasn’t a big margin for error and everyone was just going for it,” Dawson said. “I’m really, really happy to qualify through to the semifinals and I was pretty stoked with how I went today.”
A single touch kept fellow Kiwi Callum Gilbert out of the top-30 who automatically qualified, with his 84.56sec run just 1.64secs adrift, while Finn Butcher picked up two touches to lie 54th after the first round. The pair struggled in their second runs too, with multiple penalties, although they were in good company, with Poland’s Mateusz Polaczyk, a two-time World Championship silver medallist, and Michal Smolen (United States), the bronze medallist at the last world championships, also missing the semifinals.
“It just showed how tight the racing was and touches probably cost them but they’ve both got so much potential and they’ll be back stronger next year,” Dawson said.
Jones, meanwhile, will line up in her K1 heats tonight, alongside Kensa Randle and Courtney Williams, with the men’s C1 also featuring Patrick Washer, Shaun Higgins and Ben Gibb.