British Canoeing’s senior canoe slalom squad are making their final preparations in Prague this week ahead of the upcoming European Championships, the international racing season opener.
Starting on Friday 1 June, the ten-strong team will be facing Europe’s best paddlers, all bidding to claim the coveted European Champion title over three days of racing.
Rio 2016 Olympic Champion Joe Clarke will be looking to convert his winter training into a competitive international season in the men’s single kayak (K1), especially as the World Championships will be back in Rio de Janeiro, where he stormed to Olympic gold. He will be joined in the K1 by Bradley Forbes-Cryans (CR Cats) and Chris Bowers (Stafford & Stone).
Looking forward to the European Championships, Joe Clarke said: “Prague is one of my favourite venues. I have made the final of every race that I have competed in there at senior level. It’s a great, dynamic venue with some tight racing.
“I am really keen to consistently reach the finals and hopefully pick up some medals along the way. The World Championships back in Rio are a priority for me, but I would love to medal at the European Championships too.”
Three-time Olympic silver medallist, David Florence is set to contest a record 18th year on the Great Britain senior team in the canoe single (C1), after an impressive selection event in April.
Looking forward to the season starting David said: “Prague is a fantastic venue and the Czech’s love the sport and always put on a great race. It is a great place to get the season rolling.
I don’t have a set result I’m aiming for. I think if I paddle really well I am capable of getting on the podium. For me it is about putting down some good runs and see how that goes after the winter. You don’t know how other athletes are going to be going, it is just nice to get back together and race all the international athletes again.– David Florence
Also chasing Florence hard in the C1 will be the West Country’s Ryan Westley and Stafford and Stones’ Adam Burgess.
Brought up in Sidmouth and with all his family still based in the south west, Ryan Westley said: “I am hoping that all my international experience from last year will pay off with some better results this year. I have been working with my coach on a few technical and physical areas and you are constantly gaining experience. I am focused on trying to make every run I do a good run.
“I have been to Prague three time and it is a course I really like and it has the second biggest crowds next to the Olympics. I got a World Cup silver medal there in 2016 so hopefully I can go one better again.”
The competition will also be extremely tough amongst the British women, with both Mallory Franklin and Kimberley Woods doubling up in both K1 and C1. In C1 Kimberley is the reigning European Champion, whilst Mallory is the current World Champion and the tussle between the two looks set to continue over the next two years, with only one Olympic place up for grabs when the women’s C1 boat makes its debut in Tokyo 2020.
Windsor’s Mallory Franklin said: “Last season was crazy. It was definitely not what I expected, especially given my start to the season. Turning up at the European Championships and coming fourth in K1 was a massive surprise, and then being able to hold onto that for a couple more races was great. In C1, it didn’t start how I wanted it to, but I came back hard and fighting and I had a good season and I really enjoyed it.
“We have already been out in Prague getting used to the course and I am really keen to get back racing again and seeing what I can do. Prague is a very tight course. It is almost not a hard enough course in a way, and doesn’t separate people enough but I am just going canoeing and trying to do some good runs and see what happens.
“Being familiar with a course is definitely important. A lot of canoe slalom is about the intricacies of the water and going out to spend a bit of time on the course and try to learn as much as you can before actually racing on it, so it gives you some confidence.”
Double European Champion (2015 & 2017) Kimberley Woods is also a big fan of the Prague venue and has great memories of winning World Cup gold (C1) and silver (K1) there last year, shortly after taking the European crown in Tacen.
The 23-year-old from Rugby said: “I would love to make it back to back gold medals going into this year’s European Championships. I haven’t done that since I was a junior. I am really looking forward to getting onto the water and showing the world what I can do.
“Before last year Prague hadn’t really gone so well for me, and I was always pushing to get that medal from the venue. Then to get two medals in one weekend at World Cup 1 was an absolute dream. I didn’t expect to get a medal at all and it was a really tough course, but I managed to stay on top of it.
My main goal this year is to be really consistent and make sure I put in clean runs. We will see how this first race goes and take it from there.– Kimberley Woods
Completing the women’s C1 line-up is senior team rookie Bethan Forrow.
Lee Valley local, Bethan took up slalom canoeing after being inspired by the London 2012 Olympic Games. Having represented Great Britain on the junior team since 2016, this year Bethan made her senior breakthrough at the selection event to claim the third women’s C1 spot at just 17 years of age.
Excited to be part of the senior team, Bethan Forrow said: “Selections was an amazing feeling. I was really proud of what I achieved. I worked hard to get to where I have got to and hope I have made others proud too.
“I’m so excited that I get to race all the senior competitions this year. It will be important to learn from the other athletes that I get to paddle with and particularly how they deal with pressure.
“I am really looking forward to taking on the European Championships against Europe’s best athletes and seeing who I am up against. I paddled in Prague when I was 14, but it will be my first time racing there so it will certainly be a different environment to three years ago.”
In complete contrast, Scotland’s Fiona Pennie brings a wealth of experience to the British team and not far behind David Florence, has 16 years international experience under her belt in the women’s K1.
Explaining what motivates her to stay at the top level of the sport, the 35-year-old from Crieff, Perthshire said: “I still enjoy canoeing and the sport is always evolving, with new techniques so there is always something different to work on and trying to emulate the boys.
I have done well on the course in Prague in the past with a silver medal at the 2006 World Champs and a couple of World Cup medals and I do like it. The course has relatively stayed the same over time with just a few small changes to the features. It is quite a physical course and you need to keep going hard all the way down, but there are lots of little things that can catch you out. The eddies are really quick so you have to be on the ball with the upstream gates.– Fiona Pennie
“My main focus is on the World’s at the end of the season, but I would love to be in the medals at the Europeans and World Cups and build on from there.”
Mark Ratcliffe, Canoe Slalom Head Coach added: “I am very excited and it is always good when the summer racing season comes around and we hit the road and see where we are internationally. This is year two of the Olympic cycle and another building year for us following a number of changes last year and the World Championships in Rio in late September will be our main focus.
“Prague is one of the best courses that we paddle on and the nature of the water there for our sport is really good. It is a very skilful venue, there is always great racing and everybody enjoys it. Every race we do is important but European’s are very early in the season and it is mostly a chance to see if the progress we have made over the winter up to selection has been consolidated and translates into racing. If we can come out with the classes across the board in a good position we will be happy with that.”
• Joe Clarke (K1M) - Club: Stafford & Stone
• Bradley Forbes-Cryans (K1M) - Club: C.R Cats
• Christopher Bowers (K1M) - Club: Stafford & Stone
• David Florence (C1M) - Club: Forth
• Ryan Westley (C1M) - Club: Lower Wharfe
• Adam Burgess (C1M) - Club: Stafford & Stone
• Fiona Pennie (K1W) - Club: C.R Cats
• Mallory Franklin (K1W / C1W) - Club: Windsor & District
• Kimberley Woods (K1W/C1W) - Club: Rugby
• Bethan Forrow (C1W) - Club: Lee Valley Paddle Sports Club