Australians plot quest for kayak gold

Australia's Mens K4 is aiming for a podium place at the Rio Olympic GamesAustralia’s top sprint kayakers have arrived in Germany for the World Cup in Duisburg. It’s the first major International Canoe Federation (ICF) World Cup competition of the year and marks the beginning of teams’ final preparations for the Olympic Games in Rio in August.

Two more World Cup events will follow, the next on 27-29 May in Racice, the Czech Republic, and the final event in Montemor-o-Velho in Portugal on 3-5 June.

For the Australian, team Duisburg will be the first opportunity to size up teams from the northern hemisphere and to gauge the effectiveness of their Olympic preparations. The 1000m Men have been in Europe for more than two weeks, training in Hungary to adjust to European time and squeezing in another key block of flat-water training before competition starts in earnest on Friday morning.

Senior men’s coach Jimmy Owens said the team was already performing ahead of where he had expected it to be.

“We’ve had a very successful run-up to the European racing season. After a successful World Cups campaign last year, our priority events for the men’s team are the K2 [kayak pairs] and K4 [kayak fours] 1000m events. We are the Olympic champions in the K4 and we have a lot of depth in the squad. It’ll be very exciting to see how we measure up against our rivals in Duisburg and the following two World Cup events,” said Owens.

Rio will hold particular significance for competitors in the K4 1000m as potential changes to the Olympic program mean it may be the last time this distance is contested. The proposed changes would mean the men’s kayak fours would race over 500m instead of 1000m from the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 onwards.

Owens said a substantial pool of talented paddlers is vying for inclusion in the K4. The group is a mix of youth and experience and includes two of the paddlers who won gold in the K4 in London, Jacob Clear and Murray Stewart. Also fighting for a place in the team are the World Championship silver medalists last year in K2 500, Kenny Wallace and Loccy Tame, plus Daniel Bowker, 21-year old Jordan Wood and Riley Fitzsimmons, who is just 19.

Selectors will have a challenging job picking the final crews. According to Australian Canoeing’s National Performance Director Richard Fox, the plan over the World Cup series is to find winning combinations in both events.

“With four Olympic medalists to choose from and several highly talented youngsters fighting for inclusion, we have great strength over the 1000m distance. Frankly, it’s going to be a very tough call,” said Fox.

In the women’s team racing is more clear-cut. Australia have qualified just three women’s places for the Olympic Games and two of those places are accounted for by Alyssa Bull and Alyce Burnet, the current under-23 World Championship bronze medalists, who are racing K2 500m in Duisburg. Jo Brigden-Jones will be racing off against Naomi Flood in the quest to secure the one remaining position in the Olympic team. Both women competed in London, Brigden-Jones finished 6th in the K4 500m semi-final, narrowly failing to qualify for the Olympic final, while Flood was placed 12th overall in the K2 500m.