The British Senior and Olympic Selection trials got underway at Lee Valley White Water Centre today on the hottest day of the year so far, with the conditions more than matched by the blistering pace down the course from the best canoe slalom athletes in the country.
The three-day race series, with two runs on each day, started off with the classic heats format with the best of two runs to count for race one. Paddlers were competing to secure their place on the British senior team (three per boat class) and give themselves the opportunity of further international representation and success this year. The stakes were further raised however, with the overall results from this competition also acting as the first of three Tokyo 2020 Olympic selection races.
David Florence got off to a flying start in the men’s single canoe (C1), dominating the field in both heat runs to win by a five second margin and secure maximum points for race one.
With Ryan Westley pre-selected and opting not to race this weekend, it created the perfect opportunity for others to shine through and Will Smith (Winchester & District) and Will Coney (Llandysul Paddlers) did just that, to finish the race in second and third respectively.
There is still work to be done however for the 2018 European silver medallist, Adam Burgess (Stafford & Stone), who had a touch on both runs to finish fourth, whilst a much improved second run from Tom Abbott (Mold) moved him up to fifth.
Speaking after race one a satisfied David Florence said: “It gets harder every year at selection with the standards getting higher and higher. When I started out the other guys selected were struggling to get through semi finals at international level and now they are all amongst the top guys in the world. It is really tough and I just turn up and try and put down the best runs I can and today thankfully it went really well.
“I am especially pleased with it, with only two places available on the team with Ryan pre-selected. To get a win on day one means a lot although there is still a lot of work to be done and I need another good result but, it’s a really good start and makes a big difference.”
Will Smith added: “I am really happy! I just wanted to come out and enjoy it. On the first run the top half was pretty good, but then I started listening to the commentary at half way and it distracted me a bit and I went off plan, but I was able to sort myself out for second run and deliver.”
The women’s racing proved equally exciting in the kayak single (K1) with Kimberly Woods (Rugby) putting down two sub 100 second runs to comfortably secure the first race win. She pipped the pre-selected Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District), whose on-point second run was a mere 0.05 seconds adrift.
With two touches the first time down the course and an appeal rejected on gate one, Fiona Pennie (CR Cats) dug deep and came good, to post a clean second run and finish in all important third place. Amber Maslen (Independent) showed good consistent paddling today to finish fourth, with Sophie Ogilvie also going well, to see three Scots in the top five.
Kimberley Woods was extremely satisfied with her performance saying: “I am most pleased about my consistent paddling this morning as it has been so hard all winter to put all good runs down in training. I know when it gets to racing I can put it down and those two girls (Mallory and Fiona) have been pushing me all winter, so to get close to them and beat them today with a win really, really helps and is a good start to the selection series.”
However the tables were turned in the afternoon in the women’s canoe single (C1) with more tight racing. After an error strewn first run, Mallory Franklin gave a textbook demonstration in the second to post 104.35 seconds and take the win. Unfortunately for Kimberley Woods, she did the reverse, winning the first run decisively and then picking up two touches in the second, to ultimately finished 0.72 seconds off the pace, but in a commanding second place.
Also pre-selected in C1 for the British senior team and explaining her motivation, Mallory Franklin said: “I just tried to focus on delivering as good a run as I could and enjoy my racing. I am still fighting for that first place in Olympic selection so I want to win.”
There were also massive tussles lower down the order, with Eilidh Gibson (CR Cats), Bethan Forrow (Lee Valley) and Sophie Ogilvie (CR Cats) all vying for third spot, but it was Ogilvie who came out on top with a solid clean run.
Thrilled with her performance Sophie said: “It was amazing putting good runs down in both boats today. But in C1 to come back from all those touches and put a clean run down was great. To finish third today, it just shows the hard work all pays off and it’s pretty crazy actually!”
There was more close racing in the men’s kayak single (K1), with Bradley Forbes-Cryans (CR Cats) ultimately getting the better of the Joe Clarke (Stafford & Stone) the Olympic Champion to take the first race win. Despite Joe’s excellent boat speed a touch on gate four proved costly and nudged him down to second by 0.22 seconds.
Chris Bowers (Stafford & Stone), who had been sitting in second after his excellent first run, couldn’t better his time and was nudged down to third, but more than three seconds ahead of the chasing pack.
Enjoying the early victory, Bradley said: “I knew I had a really big job ahead of me today with Chris and Joe going really fast at the moment. But I think on days like this you have really got to trust yourself and just believe in your plan. It is massively important to start day one with a win. In Olympic selection year it is not only crucial to make the team, but also to be picking up the wins along the way.”
Joe Clarke reflected: “The pace is definitely there. I will just look to bring my ‘A’ game tomorrow and I am sure it will be a different story. There are still two more wins to be had and it is all to play for, so bring it on.”
The action continues tomorrow and Monday, when the competition format changes to a semi final run with only the top six boats progressing to the final in each of the four boat classes, increasing the pressure to perform when it counts.
RESULTS SUMMARY - TOP 5
1st David Florence (Lloyds Register)
2nd Will Smith (Winchester & District)
3rd Will Coney (Llandysul Paddlers)
4th Adam Burgess (Stafford & Stone)
5th Tom Abbott (Mold)
1st Kimberley Woods (Rugby)
2nd Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District)*
3rd Fiona Pennie (CR Cats)
4th Amber Maslen (Independent)
5th Sophie Ogilvie (CR Cats)
1st Bradley Forbes-Cryans (CR Cats)
2nd Jo Clarke (Staffotrd & Stone)
3rd Chris Bowers (Stafford & Stone)
4th Ciaran Lee Edwards (Llandysul)
5th Huw Swetnam (EyeTee)
1st Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District)*
2nd Kimberley Woods (Rugby)
3rd Sophie Ogilvie (CR Cats)
4th Bethan Forrow (Lee Valley)
5th Eilidh Gibson (Strathallan)
* Denotes pre-selected for the British senior team in this event
Full results can be found here: http://siwihome.azurewebsites.net/canoe123/live?SessionKey=bcu.20190420
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 and Facebook @BritishCanoeing.