Dawson books another Olympic kayaking spot

A single paddle stroke ended Mike Dawson’s canoe slalom world championship ambitions in London overnight, although he managed to qualify New Zealand’s second spot at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Dawson finished 28th in the semifinal, ruing a slip between the 12th and 13th gates at the tough Lee Valley whitewater course which ruined his hopes of making the top-10 final.
Like his compatriot Luuka Jones, however, he still did enough to finish in the top-15 nationals and book a likely second appearance at Olympic level next year.
“Our sport’s pretty difficult – when you make a mistake at the top, it usually all falls apart,” Dawson said. “I made a big mistake in the middle that cost me so much time but I was really stoked to be able to hold the rest of the run together and keep my head in the game. I didn’t really come here for the Olympic spot – I came here to try and get on the podium.  It was going super-well but unfortunately when you make a mistake like that, the podium’s out of reach but we still managed to get an Olympic spot which is a bonus.”
Dawson’s time was 100.29secs, which included a 2sec penalty at the 16th gate.  It was a far cry from his brilliant qualifying run which he topped, earning the right to start last in the semifinal.
“There’s nothing quite like sitting up at the top by yourself – it’s a really pure moment and it’s really peaceful up there.  To race down knowing you’ve got all the guys waiting to see what you do… it’s probably the only way you can simulate the Olympic Games.”
Young star Jiri Prskavec completed a notable K1 double for the Czech Republic, winning the men’s final and adding to Katerina Kudejova’s victory in the women’s final on Saturday.
Poland’s Mateusz Polaczyk was second, while another rising star, United States paddler Michal Smolen, was third.
Dawson will now take a break from slalom, competing in the adidas Sickline world extreme championships in Austria next month, before heading home to start training towards Rio.
He’ll be pushed by a number of young paddlers, including Alexandra’s Finn Butcher who narrowly missed a semifinal spot as well.
“Slalom New Zealand is in a really wicked spot – we’ve got so many young athletes coming through and we’ve got Luuka who had a really great race and was really unlucky to miss out on the final.  I think we’ll do quite well next year at the Olympics.”

Mike Dawson on his way to 28th in the semifinals of the canoe slalom world championships in London overnight.  Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Mike Dawson on his way to 28th in the semifinals of the canoe slalom world championships in London overnight. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

Rio qualification soothes Jones’ London pain

Luuka Jones is hoping to harness world championship pain to fuel her third Olympic canoe slalom campaign in Rio de Janeiro.
The 26-year-old kayaker came agonisingly close to qualifying for the top-10 final at the world championships in London today, finishing just 0.10secs outside the medal race in 11th.
Two 2sec penalties derailed an otherwise superb run on the brutal Lee Valley course, although she comfortably qualified a K1 women’s spot for New Zealand at next year’s Olympics.
“I wasn’t even concentrating on that this weekend but qualifying is obviously a really good outcome,” an otherwise disappointed Jones said. “I was really lucky to qualify for Beijing so young and London was a great experience but now I’ve got so much support behind me, Rio should be a really good Games.  There’s enough time to have a good solid buildup and work on a few things.”
It’s been a tough season for the Tauranga-raised paddler, who struggled for consistency through the world cup season.  Her raw times were as good as anyone in the field but penalties kept dropping her out of contention.  And so it proved in her semifinal, clocking a raw time of 107.51secs, which would’ve been the sixth-fastest and close to the medals in the final.
“My coach and I had a really good plan and I nailed some parts of it but there were just a few parts I didn’t execute that well and lost a bit of time. Two touches put me back a lot – there were a lot of mistakes out there today and it just shows the difficulty of the course.”
Katerina Kudejova (Czech Republic) won the final with a time of 103.62, from Germans Ricarda Funk and Melanie Pfeifer, with only Kudejova and Funk recording clear runs as the tough course bared its teeth.
Jones will watch fellow Kiwi Mike Dawson attempt to go one better than her in the men’s K1 tomorrow, with Dawson top-qualifer for the semifinals, then she’ll fly back to New Zealand on Monday determined to come back stronger next year.
“It was a good moment sitting on the start line at a world championship and although I didn’t pull off the run that I wanted, that’s the nature of the sport.”

Dawson delivers on world kayak stage

by Jamie Troughton
A brilliant paddle from New Zealand kayaker Mike Dawson has put him in pole position at the canoe slalom world championships in London.

The Tauranga 28-year-old clocked the fastest time of the day on the tough Lee Valley course, with his 81.28sec effort heading an illustrious lineup of the best slalom exponents on the planet.  It put him straight into Sunday’s semifinal, in a great position to qualify a boat for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“That was one of the best runs I’ve had in a long time and the cool thing was that I just tried to have fun,” Dawson said.  “Everything went just as planned and it just felt great – even if I was slower, I would’ve still been happy with how it felt.”

Left in his wake were previous world champions Vavrinec Hradilek (16th qualifier), Peter Kauzer (14th) and reigning Olympic champion Daniele Molmenti (19th). Defending champion champion Boris Neveu (France) missed the top-30 cut after the first round and had to qualify through the repechage round, while others like top Australian Lucien Delfour missed the semifinals completely.

Alexandra’s Finn Butcher nearly made it an even sweeter day for the New Zealand team, picking up a 2sec penalty for touching a gate and finishing an agonising 12th in the second run, just 0.47secs off the top-10 finish he needed to progress.

The result means that both New Zealand Olympians have made the weekend, with Luuka Jones racing her women’s K1 semifinal tomorrow.  Jones and Dawson need to finish in the top-15 nations to qualify spots for Rio, with athletes from 17 countries making the women’s semifinal and 22 nations represented in the men’s top-40.

Such is the relaxed state he’s in, Dawson admitted he wasn’t even thinking about what he needs to do to qualify – he just wants to go out and experience the feeling of another pure run.

“I’d love to go to Rio – that would mean a lot to me – but at the same time it’s not the end of the world if I don’t make it. I’m just learning that the more I trust myself to paddle, the better it is and the more fun it is.  After that, the times start to reflect that.  That’s a lesson – be confident and belong here.”

The other New Zealander in action today was Callum Gibert, who picked up four penalties in his first run and another two in the repechage to dip out of contention.

Fellow Tauranga-based paddlers Bryden Nicholas, racing for the Cook Islands, and Daniel Tuiraviravi (Fiji) finished 99th and 80th respectively in the first heat but both improved substantially in their second paddles, with Nicholas 36th and Tuiraviravi 56th.

See more images here

New Zealand kayaker Mike Dawson clocked the fastest time in qualification at the canoe slalom world championships in London. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
New Zealand kayaker Mike Dawson clocked the fastest time in qualification at the canoe slalom world championships in London. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Finn Butcher. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Finn Butcher. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

Jones gets jump on canoe slalom rivals

New Zealand kayaker Luuka Jones on her way to qualifying for the semifinals at the canoe slalom world championships in London. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
New Zealand kayaker Luuka Jones on her way to qualifying for the semifinals at the canoe slalom world championships in London. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

New Zealand kayaker Luuka Jones picked the perfect time to nail a qualifying run at the canoe slalom world championships in London today.
Jones had the 19th-fastest time in the 67-boat field, putting her straight through to Saturday’s semifinal and giving her dreams of a third consecutive Olympic appearance a major boost.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing for the 26-year-old paddler, however, getting off to a rocky start and picking up an early 2sec penalty on the tough Lee Valley whitewater course, but her 97.51sec time was just good enough.
“I’m really happy I qualified in the end – I wouldn’t say I was super-happy but it was enough at the end of the day,” Jones said. “I made a big mistake through the third and fourth gates and really had to adjust my line, then I hit a gate about a third of the way down, but you really need to be objective on this course and just keep going. You can’t get caught up in the mistakes.”
Although Jones finished just 0.06secs in front of Ukrainian Viktoriia Us, it was a crucial margin, as it meant she avoided the afternoon repechage round.  That’s something of a novelty for Jones this season, after struggling for consistency through the world cup rounds.
“I’ve been saving it all for this one,” she quipped. “It makes a big difference – I would’ve been waiting around for three hours before the next run and it’s mentally draining more than anything. Now I’ve got two days to readjust and correct a few things before the semifinal.”
She can also relax and watch the other members of the New Zealand team, with C1 paddlers Ben Gibb, James Thwaites and Shaun Higgins in action tomorrow and K1 men Mike Dawson, Callum Gilbert and Finn Butcher lining up on Friday.
The K1 paddlers need to finish in the top-15 nations to qualify a position at Rio de Janeiro, while the C1 canoeists need to place in the top-10.
Meanwhile, New Zealand-raised Cook Islands paddler Ella Nicholas was 51st in the first round with a 115.25sec time.  She was in good company, however, with defending world champion Australian Jess Fox also having to go through the repechage round after finishing the first heat in 38th spot.

Top kayakers targeting Olympic spots

 Caption: Leading kayakers Mike Dawson (left) and Luuka Jones will lead a large New Zealand contingent at this week's canoe slalom world championships in London. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

Caption: Leading kayakers Mike Dawson (left) and Luuka Jones will lead a large New Zealand contingent at this week’s canoe slalom world championships in London. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson are hoping history repeats at this week’s canoe slalom world championships in London.

The leading New Zealand kayakers will be aiming to qualify boats for Rio de Janeiro on the tough Lee Valley course, venue for the 2012 Olympics, with Jones tilting for her third consecutive Games and Dawson his second.

A year ago in Prague, the pair recorded their best world championship finishes, with Jones making the final for the first time and finishing 10th and Dawson ending in 12th.  Similar results this week would easily qualify New Zealand spots amid the top-15 nations destined for Rio, with Dawson explaining the London course suits the New Zealand paddling style.

“This course is incredible – it’s big and powerful with so many options,” the 28-year-old said. “I really enjoy paddling here and the feeling on the water. We’re all pretty excited about the week ahead.”

Dawson got his World Cup season off to a flier in Europe this year, setting the fastest time in qualifying in the opening round in Prague and eventually finishing ninth, although he missed the semifinals in the final round in France after his hectic extreme/expedition/slalom schedule took its toll.

Jones, meanwhile, took a while to get her rhythm this season but came right by the time she got to France, qualifying for the semifinals in fourth spot.

“Going into this race is about taking everything I have learned from previous races to put together a performance I can be proud of,” Jones said.  “I’ve spent a lot of time at Lee Valley this year and know the course well – I can’t really do anything more to prepare for this event.”

There will also be plenty of interest in the rest of the New Zealand team, with Kelly Travers (C1), Finn Butcher and Callum Gilbert (K1) all making their first World Cup semifinals this season and C1 paddlers Ben Gibb and Shaun Higgens making steady improvements.

Tauranga-raised siblings Brydent and Ella Nicholas will also be racing in London for the Cook Islands, with Ella Nicholas already having represented the Pacific Island nation at the 2012 Olympics. Another Bay of Plenty paddler, 17-year-old Daniel Tuiraviravi, will be representing Fiji.Dawson believe the team dynamics are as good as he’s ever experienced leading into a world championship.

“They’re a great bunch to train and work with. It’s going to be awesome to see Luuka race here, as she’s paddling really well, while the younger paddlers have spent a lot of time on the course and have had a great build up.”

The championships get underway on Wednesday night (NZ time).

Carrington keen to keep improving

Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

Lisa Carrington has vowed to find something extra for next year’s Olympics, despite a record-breaking performance at the canoe racing world championships over the weekend.

The 26-year-old Whakatane paddler claimed her fourth consecutive world title in the K1 200m in Milan overnight, adding to the K1 500m crown she collected for the first time a day earlier.

Although her Polish rival Marta Walczykiewicz jumped out to a fast start in the shorter final, Carrington soon drew level and won going away, in 40.060secs.  Walczykiewicz was second, 0.640secs back, with Teresa Portela third in 41.248.

“It was pretty tough having four days of racing – the 200m is my favored race but it’s also really hard to back up two big races,” Carrington said. “Results aside, I’m really happy with my performances in the year that has just been, building into these world championships, and hopefully we can keep improving.  That’s going to be really tough to do – obviously we’ll keep doing the positive things that are working but we’ll keep looking for other things to improve on.”

The reigning Olympic 200m champion is now a firm favourite to repeat her double-win in Rio de Janeiro in 12 months’ time, while the list of milestones she’s now ticked off is significant.

With her two gold medals this year, Carrington overtakes Paul MacDonald as New Zealand’s most successful world championship athlete, with five.  She joins MacDonald as the only Kiwi to win two golds at the same championship and she is the first women in 16 years – and only third in history – to hold both the 200m and 500m titles at the same time.

Canoe Racing New Zealand boss Mark Weatherall paid tribute to the paddling star.

“Lisa truly is worth her weight in gold, not just for the glittering titles she brings back to our shores but also the role modeling she provides,” Weatherall said.  “She’s such a focused, disciplined athlete and having her in a New Zealand team rubs off on the other athletes.  You can see how important this is by the way the K4 team has lifted this year, while a number of our younger paddlers shone at the recent under-23 world championships.  She’s a benchmark for all paddlers to aspire to.”

The women’s K4 crew of Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie created their own piece of history over the weekend, finishing third in their semifinal to advance to the A final.  Although they were ninth in a thrilling decider, with Belarus, Hungary and Germany dominating and the Kiwis just 3.745secs behind, it means the Olympic qualifying standard has been met and a New Zealand women’s K4 boat is likely to compete in Rio de Janeiro for the first time.

“We gave it what we had on the day and I am so proud to have these girls beside me for another year of improvements,” Ryan said.  “It’s all learning and it’s exciting that we have so much more to show.”

It’s been 23 years since New Zealand last had an Olympic K4 boat, with Richard Boyle, Finn O’Connor, Stephen Richards, and Mark Scheib making the semifinals in Barcelona in 1992, after earlier men’s K4 crews in 1984 and 1988.

There has never been a women’s K4 meet the qualifying standard until now, however, and if they’re confirmed in the Olympic team early next year, the current crew will more than double the number of females to have competed at that level.

Of the 24 New Zealanders who have competed in canoe racing at the Olympic games, only three – Erin Taylor, Carrington and Teneale Hatton – have been in the women’s ranks.

New Zealand canoe sprint world champions:

1985 (Mechelen)        K2 500m (Ian Ferguson/Paul MacDonald)
1987 (Duisburg)     K1 500m (Paul MacDonald)
1987 (Duisburg)     K2 1000m  (Ian Ferguson/Paul MacDonald)
2003 (Gainesville)     K1 1000m (Ben Fouhy)
2011 (Szeged)        K1 200m (Lisa Carrington)
2013 (Duisburg)        K1 200m (Lisa Carrington)
2013 (Duisburg)        K1 5000m (Teneale Hatton)
2014 (Moscow)         K1 200m (Lisa Carrington)
2014 (Moscow)         K1 1000m (Teneale Hatton)
2015 (Milan)        K1 500m (Lisa Carrington)
2015 (Milan)        K1 200m (Lisa Carrington)

Dream day for Kiwi kayakers

Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services info@dscribe.co.nz
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

The New Zealand women’s K4 kayaking team have added a large dollop of icing to Lisa Carrington’s cake after a dream day at the canoe racing world championships in Milan.

A few short hours after Carrington collected her first K1 500m world title and qualified fastest for tonight’s K1 200m final, the K4 also booked a spot in the A final and in doing so, qualified a boat for next year’s Olympics.

Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie finished third in their semifinal after leading for much of the race but that was enough to confirm a top-10 ranking.

“I guess there’s a pretty high likelihood we’ll go to Rio now, which is a bit of a dream come true,” a jubilant Fisher said.  “It’s been a pretty long year and there’s been a lot of suffering together.  It’s been a year of hurting but it’s all really paying off now.”

Great Britain and Germany overhauled the Kiwis in the last 50m, clocking 1min 33.635secs and 1:33.706 respectively, but the New Zealand crew were only 0.308secs behind.

Having only been together for around nine months, Fisher also paid tribute to new national women’s coach Rene Olsen, who helped them win the world cup round in Portugal and has vastly improved their strength and fitness.

Carrington, meanwhile, was all class in her K1 500m final, which confirmed her status as one of the greatest female paddlers of all time.

She put daylight in between her black boat and her rivals on a choppy morning session in Milan, pulling away over the last 100m to win in 1:49.398, 1.727secs clear of rising Hungarian Anna Kárász, with Yu Zhou (China) a surprise third.

“I had an idea I was in the lead but I couldn’t back off it at any stage,” the 26-year-old said. “It was a tough race and I had to be really prepared to give it everything and do what I could because the competition was so strong. I couldn’t leave anything up to chance. I’m just really pleased to get the K1 500m done and now I can refocus on the 200m.”

Kárász, who posted the fastest semifinal time a day earlier, stuck with Carrington for the first half of the race, trailing by 0.650secs at the 250m mark but had no answer when the Kiwi powered home over the final stages. Carrington raised a finger to the heavens and allowed herself a smile as she crossed the line.

The win completes a seamless 500m progression for the New Zealander, who finished third in 2013 and second last year, and she became just the second non-European to win the 500m title, after Canada’s Caroline Brunet from 1997-99.

Brunet was also the last women to hold both titles in the same year, although Carrington’s form in the shorter distance has been peerless and she’ll be aiming for a fourth consecutive 200m title in tonight’s 200m final after qualifying fastest in the semifinals.

She recorded a time of 39.925secs, with Spain’s Teresa Portela second-quickest in 40.154 and Poland’s Marta Walczykiewicz, runner-up to Carrington for the last three years, third-fastest.
Carrington admits the chance to compete at the top in both events is helping keep her competitive fires burning.

“It’s all about keeping the challenge and trying to get better and better every year and every day.  It’s allowed me to become a better paddler and, as I get older, I seem to get fitter and stronger and work on more things.”

Meanwhile, the men’s K2 of Zac Franich and Darryl Fitzgerald finished seventh in their 1000m C final.

On the road to RIo

Dawn on the water, with the New Zealand women's K4 boat powering their way up the Waitemata Harbour. Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services
Dawn on the water, with the New Zealand women’s K4 boat powering their way up the Waitemata Harbour. All photos by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services

A quartet of Kiwi kayakers will be looking to add a new chapter to New Zealand’s proud Olympic canoeing history this week, when they try to qualify a first female K4 boat for next year’s Rio de Janiero Olympics.

EIGHT BLADES dip and flash in the golden light of dawn, creasing the mirrored surface of the Waitemata Harbour’s upper reaches.

Spray flies as four strong bodies lean into their work.  Beneath them, a K4 kayak knifes through the water as a certain melody emerges – the swish of paddles, deep intakes of breath, the singing of an 11m length of carbon fibre coming up to speed.

Much is made of the Olympic creed ‘faster, higher, stronger’ but a world-class K4 crew also needs harmony. It’s the athletic equivalent of a barbershop quartet or a girl-band – one off-key note, or a single stroke out of time and the wobbles can set in from which there’s no recovery.

“No-one actually realises how tippy a kayak is and then you put four people into something tippy… you have to keep it in the same time and the same rhythm,” Caitlin Ryan, part of the New Zealand women’s K4 crew, explains. “Sometimes it doesn’t work but most of the time, the goal is to protect the person in front of you. By making it easier for the person in front of you, it makes the boat flow.”

Ryan and teammates Jaimee Lovett, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie are hoping to turn that flow into a deluge this week.  After nine months of muscle-shredding gym work, finger-burning frosty mornings and lung-lashing lactic sessions, the four want to lock in a spot at next year’s Rio de Janeiro with a world-class performance at the canoe sprint world championships in Milan from August 19-23.

It’s been 23 years since New Zealand last had an Olympic K4 boat, with Richard Boyle, Finn O’Connor, Stephen Richards, and Mark Scheib making the semifinals in Barcelona in 1992, after earlier men’s K4 crews in 1984 and 1988.

Such has been the improvement from the current crop, however, that qualification won’t be a total shock.  They’ve already made a bold statement by winning the K4 500m at a World Cup round in Portugal earlier this year and finishing fifth a week later against the top European crews.

A similar performance in Milan is likely to transform them from passionate amateurs into equally passionate – but fully-funded – Olympians-in-waiting.

That’s the plan, although Lovett – a 27-year-old raised and nurtured on the beaches around Whakatane – is adamant they’re not getting ahead of themselves.

“Rio is the goal but it’s step by step and remembering to think about the process, getting through one block and one session and ticking the boxes,” Lovett explains.  “If we tick the boxes, the end goal is what it is and the results will be hopefully what we want.”

Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services info@dscribe.co.nz

ON A BREEZY February morning last year, newly-appointed Canoe Racing New Zealand boss Mark Weatherall sat on the banks of Tikitapu, the stunningly picturesque Rotorua lake and national championships venue, deep in thought.

The “Carrington factor” – as in, the success and role modeling of world and Olympic K1 200m champion Lisa Carrington – had given female paddling stocks in this country a significant boost. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be the next version of Ohope’s favourite daughter.

The only problem?  There’s no place for the next Lisa Carrington if the current version is still peerless, motivated and virtually untouchable.

Weatherall realised the best use of the burgeoning female talent was to focus them in other areas, while the best way to open up opportunities for as many paddlers as possible was to put them in a bigger boat.

A K4 was put together – comprising Ryan, Lovett, Fisher and K1 5000m world champion Teneale Hatton – and sent to the world championships, where they finished a meritorious 14th.

“We could see obvious potential in the crew but one of the big things separating them from the leading countries was consistent access to a quality, dedicated coach,” Weatherall explained.

He approached High Performance Sport New Zealand and was delighted when the sports funding and investment agency gave him the thumbs up to find such a coach.  After sifting through nearly 50 applicants, CRNZ appointed former Danish marathon kayaker and national coach Rene Olsen in November last year.

New Zealand K4 coach Rene Olsen.
New Zealand K4 coach Rene Olsen.

NINE MONTHS after Weatherall’s epiphany, Rene Olsen sat on the same patch of lakeside grass in Rotorua, analysing the talent he had at his disposal.

A compact and uncomplicated character, he noted with interest the historical reliance New Zealand kayakers had on paddling fitness, with our long on-water season contrasted with European emphasis on gym strength.

If he could marry the two philosophies, he reasoned, good things could happen, while there were also significant gains to be had getting them all working together.

“You can’t just take the four best paddlers and make the best boat – you have to think about the different qualities each paddler brings to the boat,” Olsen said. “New Zealand is a small country and if someone isn’t performing, there aren’t huge numbers of people lined up to take their place like in Germany or Hungary. I’m used to getting the most out of the talent that is there and not relying on the numbers.”

Within weeks, his quiet positivity and relentless focus on team building started showing, along with an added gym emphasis.

“Last year, I felt like a little kid and I kind of felt out of place… this year, I know I’m as strong as any other girl there…” – Aimee Fisher

“This last six or seven months with Rene have been a massive step up,” Fisher, the 20-year-old Hawke’s Bay product, confirms.  “Last year, I felt like a little kid and I kind of felt out of place, being a teenager.  This year, I know I’m as strong as any other girl there and I’ve worked as hard as any of them. Every day, we go out there and we’re striving for excellence and breaking new boundaries – I’m really enjoying training and loving life.”

Like Weatherall, all four female paddlers have come through the surf lifesaving scene, graduating to surf skis in their mid-teens before branching out into flatwater racing.

Ryan has been with the Red Beach club, for instance, since she was five, became a qualified lifeguard at 14 and has won six national ski titles in her career, including the coveted open crown in 2012 and 2013.

Now a practicing dental hygienist, Ryan was born just five days after her Wellington crewmate Imrie, who grew up in the Hutt Valley and turned out for the Paekakariki surf club and Mana kayak racing club as soon as she could.

Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services info@dscribe.co.nz

Imrie, 23, has speed, strength and reach, making her the ideal back-seat in the boat, as the four friends fuse together.

“We’re all really good mates but then when we’re on the water, we’re all good colleagues trying to achieve the same goal,” Imrie says.  “Everybody has really different personalities but I think that’s really good and we work really well together.”

Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services info@dscribe.co.nz
OF COURSE, working together is easy on the good days, when everyone is feeling good, the wind is friendly and the air warm.

Unfortunately, the crew is based in Auckland, where golden dawns and mirrored waters are rare and precious.  Bleak, squally gloom is far more likely through the middle months of the year, with pre-dark starts and achy bones testing even the tightest teamwork.

But this isn’t an ordinary road to Rio. Rise or fall, succeed or fail, the four friends are in it together, paddling in harmony, something the experienced campaigner Lovett has noted with interest.

“One of the biggest changes is the mentality shift,” she explains. “We used to look at what the wind was going to be like and what the water was going to be like and whether we were going to have a good session – but none of that stuff really matters any more. We’ve got work to do and we just get on and do it.  That’s a good shift because when you race, you’re going to have all sorts of conditions. We’re better prepared for that situation now – we just race in whatever and don’t really worry about it.”

Photo by Jamie Troughton Dscribe Media Services info@dscribe.co.nz

Carrington fired up for historic double

Kiwi kayaker Lisa Carrington. Photo Balint Vekassy/ICF
Kiwi kayaker Lisa Carrington. Photo Balint Vekassy/ICF

Lisa Carrington is in a confident frame of mind as she eyes an unprecedented canoe sprint world championship double this week.

Carrington will spearhead a nine-strong New Zealand team in Milan when racing begins tomorrow night (NZ time), with the championships doubling as a qualifier for next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The 26-year-old is a warm favourite in the K1 200m – the event in which she’s the reigning world and Olympic champion – but she’ll also try and add the K1 500m world title for the first time, despite a hectic schedule of four consecutive days of racing.

“Just having the experience of racing over the last two years, racing both K1 500m and 200m, has given me the confidence that I can do both events,” Carrington said.  “My training schedule has also prepared me to compete in both events so I have the stamina and fitness to do both.”

Carrington picked up K1 500m silver at last year’s world championships in Moscow, although Hungary’s gold medalist Danuta Kozák is likely to focus on K2 and K4 team boats this week.  Kozák lost the recent Hungarian national trials to rising under-23 star Anna Kárász, who shapes as Carrington’s main rival in the longer distance, while Beijing Olympic champion Inna Osypenko-Radomska, having switched nationalities from Ukraine to Azerbaijan, also looms as a big threat.

Polish paddler Marta Walczykiewicz, who finished second to Carrington in the K1 200m world championship final, is likely to be in the mix in the shorter distance, although the Kiwi hasn’t been touched at world cup level in recent years and sounded a warning to her rivals she’s in as good a shape as ever.

“My preparation for these worlds has gone really well – every year since the last Olympics, I’ve been able to build up and build up and this year has been really good. Just having another year under my belt and being able to work on those things I need to work on has helped me get stronger and fitter.”

Paraconoeist Scott Martlew will start the New Zealand campaign tomorrow, having been confirmed overnight in the tough KL3 division, with Carrington, fellow K1 paddler Marty McDowell (K1 1000m) and men’s K2 pairing Darryl Fitzgerald and Zac Franich racing heats and semifinals on Thursday.

The women’s K4 of Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie aren’t racing until Friday, although there are high hopes the crew will be able to qualify a team boat in Rio after a strong world cup debut earlier this year.

The New Zealand team arrived in Milan on Sunday, after a varied buildup.  McDowell and Carrington spent time trialing a pre-Olympic training base in Spain before heading to Slovenia, where they met up with the women’s K4 and men’s K2.

The team also used Rowing New Zealand’s base at Lake Bohinj for some of their harder sessions, with Olympic single sculls champion Mahe Drysdale following their progress from the comfort of the coach boat last week.

Canoe Racing New Zealand chief executive Mark Weatherall was confident the big investment in the team, supported by High Performance Sport New Zealand, would pay dividends this week.

“We’ve deliberately set the bar high for our athletes this year and they’ve really worked hard to get to Milan,” Weatherall said.  “We’re pretty excited about our prospects this week and hopefully that hard work will translate into some good results.”

Full schedule available here:

Slick run sees Kiwi kayaker progress

New Zealand's Luuka Jones on her way to a faultless second run at the final canoe slalom world cup of the season in France overnight.  Photo by Lucy Bradshaw.
New Zealand’s Luuka Jones on her way to a faultless second run at the final canoe slalom world cup of the season in France overnight. Photo by Lucy Bradshaw.

Top New Zealand kayaker Luuka Jones stormed into the semifinals of the final canoe slalom world cup of the season in France overnight, notching the fourth-fastest time overall.

The 24-year-old Bay of Plenty paddler was off the pace in her first run, clocking 102.23secs through the 25 gates on the tough course in Pau and missing the top-20 who automatically qualified for the K1 semifinals by just one spot.

But she made amends in her second run with a 95.73sec effort, easily cementing a spot in the top-30 for tonight’s semifinals.

“I was a bit annoyed at missing out on on the first run but it was a good feeling to know I’m capable of doing that sort of time in the second run,” Jones said. “The semifinal course is tricky but I’m looking forward to it.”

Austria’s Corinna Kuhnle was the fastest overall in the heats, recording 94.11, with Spain’s Maialen Chourraut 0.71secs back and Marie-Zelia Lafont (France) third.  But Jones’ second-round time was quicker than that of Australian prodigy Jessica Fox, who laid down a 96.54 time in her first run.

This is the last chance for paddlers to get serious competition before next month’s world championships in London, where spots at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics will be at stake.

Another to impress was New Zealand-raised Cook Islands Olympian Ella Nicholas, who grabbed her best-ever world cup finish, finishing 34th and just missing the semifinals by 1.39secs.  Her younger sister Jane, representing New Zealand, had a similar raw score but missed a gate early in her run to cop a 50sec time penalty.

Meanwhile, another Kiwi Kelly Travers finished 18th overall in the women’s C1 (canoe) semifinals, in her first appearance in the top-20 at just her second world cup.  Spain’s Nuria Vilarrubla won the C1 with a 124.75sec final run, edging Fox by 4.29secs.