It was a solid opening day for Great Britain at the canoe slalom European Championships in Pau, France with five of the six senior boats in action qualifying for their respective semi- finals on Saturday.
With some 200 athletes from 25 countries taking part in this first international race of the Olympic build-up season, there was palpable excitement as the men’s canoe single (C1) and women’s kayak single (K1) paddlers got the action underway with the heats, enjoying the hot and sunny conditions at the Pau Pyrenees White water stadium.
In the men’s C1, Scotland’s David Florence (Lloyds Register) continued to show the strong form he has exhibited all year, having won both the Australian Open and the British senior selection trials.
He posted a fast clean run of 95.42 seconds on his first run to finish fifth, which was enough to qualify direct to the semi-final on Saturday. The European crown is one of the few titles to have eluded Florence so far and whilst the season’s focus is firmly on Olympic selection, a good result here would undoubtedly be welcomed.
Stafford and Stone’s Adam Burgess who won silver at this event last year also gave a competent performance, staying clean and finishing ninth in 96.07 seconds which put him just 2.36 seconds off the lead and safely through to the next round.
Somerset’s Ryan Westley (Lower Wharfe) had his best ever season last year, but elective shoulder surgery over the winter has minimised his time on the water and today was his first competitive race back in his C1 boat, with defending his European Championship title far from his focus.
He paced himself steadily down the course and kept it clean finishing in 97.17 seconds. With four more paddlers to go his position for direct qualification to the semis looked on shaky ground, but three of the big names failed to match him and he went through in 15th place.
Will Smith (Winchester & District) made his European Championships debut today finishing 18th after his second heat run. He couldn’t quite find the speed of his first run and also picked up a touch on gate seven to end his hope of progressing. However it was all great experience for this exciting young paddler who gave everyone a run for their money at the British senior selection trials in April.
The women’s K1 paddlers were also in action today and it there were mixed fortunes for the British trio.
Fiona Pennie (CR Cats) who won the European title back in 2013 and took a bronze last year, showed her vast experience after a disrupted winter’s training. She flew down the course in 101.38 seconds to finish fifth after the first run and keep herself well in the mix.
She was soon joined in the semi-final line-up by World K1 silver medallist, Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District). Mallory showed her signature smooth speed down the course to finish one spot behind Pennie in 101.52 seconds, after an early touch on gate five, without which she would have finished in second.
However there was bitter disappointment for Kimberley Woods (Rugby), who had enjoyed her best ever finish in K1 at last year’s European Championships in sixth place. Having been 0.62 seconds up at the second split, she had to battle through upstream gate 21 and picked up touch that saw her finish just below the cut in 16th position.
The heats action will continue tomorrow morning with the women’s C1 and men’s K1, followed by an afternoon of team events in all four boat classes.
You can follow all the action from the European Championships via the British Canoeing live blog which can be found here: britishcanoeing.org.uk/live with highlights on Twitter @BritishCanoeing.
DAY 1 RESULTS SUMMARY
Men’s C1 Heats
David Florence (Lloyds Register) – Heats 1st Run 5th & qualifies for semi-final on Saturday
Adam Burgess (Stafford & Stone) – Heats 1st Run 9th & qualifies for semi-final on Saturday
Ryan Westley (Lower Wharfe) – Heats 1st Run 15th & qualifies for semi-final on Saturday
Will Smith (Winchester & District) – Heats 1st Run 27th; 2nd Run 18th
Women’s K1 Heats
Fiona Pennie (CR Cats) – Heats 1st Run 5th & qualifies for semi-final on Saturday
Mallory Franklin (Windsor & District) – Heats 1st Run 6th & qualifies for semi-final on Saturday
Kimberley Woods (Rugby) - Heats 1st Run 16th; 2nd Run 20th