Britain’s top canoe slalom athletes have just a few more days to make their final preparations, before taking to the rapids at the Lee Valley White Water Centre (LVWWC), as a crucial season for those with Olympic aspirations gets underway.
The British Senior and Olympic Selection trials, run from 20-22 April 2019 with the country’s best paddlers competing to secure their place on the British senior team and give themselves the opportunity of further international representation and success this year. The stakes are further raised however, with this competition also acting as the first of three Tokyo 2020 Olympic selection races, followed by a home World Cup also at Lee Valley in June, culminating with the World Championships in La Seu d’Urgell in Spain at the end of September.
Slalom paddlers will accumulate points in each race, with the best two performances to count and there are a range of bonus points on offer for World Championship success.
With the British canoe slalom programme enjoying its greatest ever strength in depth over recent years and only one Olympic place available in each of the four boat classes (K1M, K1W, C1M, C1W) it promises to be a thrilling season, with the battle for success sure to go down to the wire.
This weekend’s competition format will comprise a race on each of the three days made up of two runs. Saturday will feature heats in all four boat classes with the best run to count, whilst Sunday and Monday races will be run as semi finals with only the top six boats progressing to the final. The best two from three race results will then be used to determine the final placing’s with the top three athletes selected for the British senior team. However there are three exceptions in the men’s C1 and women’s C1 and K1 where Ryan Westley and Mallory Franklin respectively have been pre-selected, after winning individual medals at the 2018 World Championships.
Despite her pre-selection, Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District), Great Britain’s most successful female paddler last year, with eight individual international medals to her name, has decided to still race in both events. In the women’s canoe single (C1W) it will be down to 2018 U23 World silver medallist and two-time European Champion Kimberley Woods (Rugby) to fight for one of the two remaining places. Also amongst the names determined to be in the mix and cement her place on the senior team for a second year whilst incredibly still only being a junior, is Lee Valley local, Bethan Forrow (Lee Valley Paddle Sports). Scotland’s Eilidh Gibson (Strathallan) will also be back in full race mode, following an extended period out with injury and now striving to reclaim a senior team position.
Mallory Franklin said: “I am excited to get back out racing again this year. I can take a lot of confidence from my results last year and I am hoping that I come out of winter training a step ahead of where I finished, but this is a new year and I want to take a step up even further.
“Being pre-selected takes the pressure off a little bit and gives me a safety net which allows me to try new things and push the boundaries, but as everyone else on that start list I will be trying to win.”
In the men’s canoe single (C1M) event, 36-year-old triple Olympic silver medallist, David Florence (Lloyds Register) will head the start list, with Ryan Westley (pre-selected) opting not to race, to optimise his recovery from the shoulder surgery he underwent late last year. Also excited to get this important racing season underway and a chance to stake his claim on the Olympic stage is European silver medallist, Adam Burgess (Stafford & Stone).
There will be more gripping racing in the kayak events, with stiff competition to decide both the men’s and women’s places.
In the women’s Kayak Single (K1W), Double Olympian and 2018 European bronze medallist Fiona Pennie (CR Cats) will be drawing deep on her vast experience to try and secure her successive 14th year on the British senior team. Like the pre-selected Mallory Franklin, Kimberley Woods, Bethan Forrow and a host of other women will all be doubling up and also paddling in the kayak with the aim to book one of the two remaining slots on the senior team.
The men’s Kayak Single (K1M) event also looks sure to set the Lee Valley crowd on fire, with fast racing guaranteed courtesy of reigning Olympic champion Joe Clarke (Stafford & Stone). However he will be pushed all the way by club mate Chris Bowers and 2018 U23 World silver medallist, Bradley Forbes-Cryans (CR Cats), who enjoyed his best season ever last year, not to mention Huw Swetnam (EyeTee) who has shown in the past that he is more than capable of creating an upset.
Joe Clarke MBE said: “I am really excited for the season ahead. It feels like yesterday that we were in Rio for the last Olympics, but my focus is now completely switched to Tokyo. The stepping stone of selection is a big one to overcome and it is going to be the toughest it has ever been. We have three or four great men’s kayakers and the whole team has pushed on. We are a force to be reckoned with now, so whoever gets selected will be in good stead to go out there and win a medal.
“In January we went to Australia for a training camp for three weeks and then raced at the Australian Open and all the big names were there. I won all rounds of the competition from qualification through to finals which was really positive and gave me a huge amount of momentum which is really pushing me on.”
Looking forward to the British senior selection trials, Mark Ratcliffe, Canoe Slalom Head Coach, said: “It is always really exciting coming into the season again as it is a long winter preparing in our sport. Most athletes have been away on warm weather camps and everybody is in a good position and now looking forward to the start of the selection process.
“We had a really good year last year and I want us to build on that and go to the Worlds in La Seu ready to qualify our boats for Tokyo, as well as perform to our best and select the best people possible for the team.
“It is going to be massively challenging for everybody across the year, with various rounds to it. There will be ups and downs for everyone, but I just want us to all remain as a team, really strong across the board.
“The best piece of advice I can give to athletes is to focus on themselves. There is so much that can be distracting around you. All you can control is your own training and preparation.”
You can follow all the action from the weekend via the British Canoeing live blog which can be found here: britishcanoeing.org.uk/live with highlights on Twitter @BritishCanoeing.