Emma Russell and Afton Fitzhenry won a silver and a bronze apiece as the ECA Canoe Sprint Junior & U23 European Championships closed with the GB team picking up a total of three medals over the weekend.
The final day, a windy and choppy one in Auronzo di Cadore, began with 17-year-old Emma Russell winning silver in the K1W 500 final just over a second behind the winner, Ina Sauchuk of Belarus.
“I knew the Belarusian would start really fast so I found a pace that I knew I could maintain, then in the last 250 I just went for it,” said the Chelmsford athlete.
“I think I was fifth or sixth in the first half and I know I came past the Polish girl in the last little bit, so it was really close and I’m really pleased.”
First year A level student Russell had raced in the 2016 European Championships and recalls that competing in a K4 team of fellow youngsters had been a steep learning curve.
But two years on she arrived in the Italian Dolomites this week a vastly different athlete.
I’ve been working a lot with my coach going through the fine details, not just training but lifestyle– Emma Russell
"I’ve done some marathon races as well which all help being in an international environment and I raced at Piestany earlier in the year which was a big confidence boost too.”
Finishing fifth in yesterday’s K1W 1000 A Final was in itself beyond Russell’s expectations for the event. And today just got better still.
“At the start of the week realistically I was thinking two A finals would be great and even better if I’d got top five,” she continued.
“But having never raced an A final before I wasn’t really sure what to expect in yesterday’s K1 1000. So I just stuck to my plan and I was happy with fifth.
“Looking back at 2016 we were near enough last in the K4, so to come here and have made two A finals and won the silver medal, I can’t really believe it.”
Twenty three-year-old Afton Fitzhenry is clearly not a person who does things by halves, at least not today when she raced in no less than three A Finals.
In the C2W 500m with Ruth Bennett she finished sixth. Then back in her individual boat she rose to the occasion to finish third. Shortly after stepping off the podium she was back in a boat with Bennett for the C2W 200 final. This time they finished just off the podium in fourth.
It’s been a pretty crazy day. This morning’s C2 then this afternoon’s quick turnover of two 200s with a nice little medal in between. It was all pretty overwhelming– Afton Fitzhenry
The medal, her first at under 23 level, came in what she calls ‘horrendous’ conditions of heavy wind and chop when Fitzhenry’s mental strength had as much to do with her success as did her physical abilities.
“It was really tough conditions particularly at the start where we were held for a very long time,” she said.
“But I told myself it’s the same for everyone and I just kept myself as relaxed as possible and focussed on what we have been doing in training.
“Literally I was pulling for my life. I got to the end, looked across and thought I was fourth which I was just so happy with but then boat control came up to me and told me they thought I was third. I was just completely overwhelmed with emotions.
“My aim for this competition was to really enjoy myself. I have been working so hard and this year has been an incredible year for training and consistency and I wanted to really enjoy the benefits of that rather than focusing on results.
It’s my last under 23s so it’s a pretty special one. It means an awful lot to me so it’s going to be one that I remember for an awful lot of years– Afton Fitzhenry
Elsewhere today Rebii Simon had been looking to follow up on her bronze medal in the K1W 1000 under 23 event with similar form in today’s 500m event but unusually finished her final well down in ninth place, over four seconds behind the winner, Denmark’s Pernille Knudsden.
“Not my day today,” Simon tweeted afterwards. “Very disappointed in myself but it happens sometimes....looking forward to fighting again against the world in Portugal at Senior Worlds.”
Junior World Champion Ieuan James, who has shown this week he is bridging the gap to the U23, performed well to reach the K1M 200m A final where he finished eighth.
Day 4 results
K1W 500m Emma Russell (Chelmsford) A Final 2nd Silver
K1M 200m Ben Gallacher (Forth) B Final 2nd
K1M 500m Ben Gallacher (Forth) B Final 7th
K4M 500m James Smithson (Royal Leamington Spa) / Andras Kereszturi (Ealing) / Luke Shaw (Norwich) / Philip Miles (Royal Leamington Spa) B Final 5th
K1W 200m Enya Dale (Falcon) B Final 4th
C1W 200m Afton Fitzhenry (CNI) A Final 3rd Bronze
K1M 200m Ieuan James (Forth) A Final 8th
K1W 500m Rebii Simon (Elmbridge) A Final 9th
C2W 200m Ruth Bennett (Fladbury) / Afton Fitzhenry (CNI) A Final 4th
C2W 500m Ruth Bennett (Fladbury) / Afton Fitzhenry (CNI) A Final 6th
K1M 500m Samuel Glover (Reading) B Final 6th
K1W 200m Lucy Lee-Smith (Norwich) B Final 4th