The medals came thick and fast today in Prague, on the final day of the Canoe Slalom European Championships.
Great Britain concluded their most successful ever Europeans in individual events, with a stunning one-two in the men’s C1 and a brilliant bronze in the women’s K1 to add to the women’s C1 silver and Team C1 gold from yesterday.
In the men’s C1 it was 24-year-old Ryan Westley who became Britain’s latest European Champion, winning his first senior title to add to the World bronze medal from 2015 and showing that he will be a strong contender for the next Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.
However the week had nearly ended in disaster for the West Countryman, when he was disqualified after the first heat run on Friday for an underweight boat. But with a piece of lead added in time for the second run, he cruised through to today’s semi then on to the final where he was the third of ten finalists to race.
Inspired by teammate Adam Burgess who was lying first, he stuck to his race plan and pulled off a stunning clean run, posting a time of 95.48 seconds which was 1.57 seconds quicker than Burgess in second spot.
It was then down to the remaining seven paddlers to chase them both down including Great Britain’s David Florence, who was last to go. But with the pressure well and truly applied by the early starters, nobody could match the young British duo. Excited to win his first senior title, Ryan Westley said:
I’ve had a senior second and a senior third before, but to stand on top of the podium is a completely different feeling and to hear the national anthem play was awesome!– Ryan Westley, C1M European Champion
“All my medals have come before when I have been off early in the final. When I heard that Adam had gone quicker than anybody in the semi final, I got the bit between my teeth to try and get the best run I possibly could and stay mistake free.”
Looking back to his near miss in the heats he added “I wasn’t organised enough in the first qualification run and my boat was underweight so I got disqualified and had to go searching round for some lead to get it up to weight for the second run. It was completely my fault and I definitely won’t let that happen again!”
An U23 World Champion in 2015 and a World Cup bronze medallist last year, Adam Burgess from Stoke-on-Trent was thrilled to show his clear pedigree is now translating to senior level, not only qualifying for his first European final, but winning the silver medal.
Adam Burgess said: “I have never got it right at the Europeans before, but I had a good feeling all this week and I managed to deliver as well, so I am really happy with the performance.
“I love being in the position where you are off early in the final and can set a marker down. I knew I had gone faster than anyone in the semi final and that it was a good run. I thought it likely I would be on the podium, although I thought someone might sneak in front. It turned out to be Ryan, so we kept it British and to have two of us on the podium was really special.”
The final didn’t go quite right for David Florence from the word go and he finished ninth, but can clearly reflect on two from three outstanding run’s winning the heats on Friday and another fast clean run in the semis. It is good to see David in great shape and competing for the medals.
Earlier in the day, Scotland’s Fiona Pennie got her season off to a brilliant start, claiming a brilliant bronze in the women’s single kayak (K1), her third European medal in this event.
The, 35-year-old, competing in her 16th international season had shown she meant business from start to finish, winning the heats on Friday and posting two further fast, penalty free runs in the semi and final. She completed the final in a time of 102.91 seconds, four seconds quicker than her semi and just 0.6 seconds behind second placed Austrian Corinna Kuhnle, with the win going to Germany’s Ricarda Funk.
Speaking after the final Fiona said: “It was good to be so solid through the semi which was an even trickier course than the qualifying heats. I knew it was just about trying to put down a similar run and correct the mistakes I had made in the semi final and I managed to improve some bits. Altogether it was a relatively good run.
“Three clean runs is pretty good going and I am pleased so start off with a medal and see where the rest of the season goes.”
The strength in depth of the performance was also impressive with all but one boat qualifying for the finals and a number of personal bests throughout the team.
Commenting on the opening weekend of racing, Canoe Slalom Head Coach Mark Ratcliffe said:
The first race is always a bit of a barometer of where you are at. It has been a strong weekend across all the classes. We have had multiple finalists in every category and some real depth in each which is a really good sign, so I am very pleased overall, but we won’t get carried away.– Mark Ratcliffe
“There have been medallists in the past and more experienced guys on the team, but to see those who have not been on the team as long start to step up, gives us more opportunities to win medals with multiple boats in the final. With three good boats in each class in pushes us on well towards the next Olympic Games.
Talking about 17-year-old Bethan Forrow’s senior debut, Ratcliffe added: ”I am sure she will wake up on Monday morning and wonder what happened, but she has settled into the team well and fully deserves her performance. To come out as a finalist in her first senior championships and a team gold medal is unbelievable.”
SUNDAY RESULTS SUMMARY
Fiona Pennie (C.R Cats) - Final 3rd Bronze
Kimberley Woods (Rugby) - Final 6th
Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District) – Semi Final 15th
K1 TEAM – 4th
Ryan Westley (Lower Wharfe) - Final 1st - GOLD
Adam Burgess (Stafford & Stone) – Final 2nd SILVER
David Florence (Forth) - Final 9th
C1 TEAM – 4th