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Athletes on course for Tokyo ambitions after second day of selection event

The country’s best racers continued to make a claim for the Tokyo 2020 Games on day 2 of the Olympic and Paralympic Flatwater Selection Event, at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottinghamshire.

More fine weather and favourable conditions allowed for another excellent day of racing, with athletes in action on the water for the first time in over 18 months, at the event held under Covid-19 restrictions and protocols.

The athletes were looking to secure selection for the 2021 senior Great Britain international teams and onwards to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The paracanoe athletes were looking to put themselves in contention for the Paralympic Games, with Tokyo boat quota places and individual spots up for grabs at the final qualifying event in Szeged in May, which will complete the selection process.

Following the va’a races on Saturday, the paracanoe athletes went head-to-head to compete for international places in the kayak (K) events.

There was a great battle in the Women’s KL3, with Laura Sugar claiming victory in the three rounds of racing, finishing just ahead of Hope Gordon (Forth).  

Laura recorded a world best for the KL3, with a time of 46.83 in the second round, with Hope securing a series of personal bests - including 47.08 in the final round.

Speaking after the three rounds Laura Sugar said:

“Today went really well – it was the best that could have been expected. 

“I know Hope’s been going really fast, so the battle was real and to get a fast time in my first race and then my fastest-ever time in my second race – in any country – that was unexpected and I’m very happy.”

Current World Champion Charlotte Henshaw claimed three victories in the Women’s KL2, just a couple of seconds ahead of Rio 2016 Paralympic Champion Emma Wiggs, who was back on the water following her victories in the VL2 va’a races on Saturday.

In a blistering first round Charlotte recorded a course record with 48.43, with Emma just behind with 49.87, her fastest time in the kayak for two years.

Charlotte Henshaw said:

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been out on a race line and it’s felt a long time. This morning the nerves were there for sure, but it’s amazing to be back out putting some decent times down and going through the race process. You can get rusty with that, so I’m happy to have got three good runs out of today."

In the men’s events Rio 2016 Paraympian Robert Oliver (Solihull) put down a marker in the Men's KL3 by winning the first two rounds of the day.  

But with Rob not starting in the final round, Jonny Young (CANI) took the victory, to add to his two second place finishes, ahead of Tim Lodge (Wey).

Rob Oliver said:

“I don’t think it could have gone any better today. We’ve had a really disturbed build-up to this event – we’ve almost ran it about three times – so today has been long overdue and I loved every minute of it. 

“Racing and competing is why we do it. I’ve trained for five years for this Paralympics so I’m delighted to have put myself in contention.”

In the Men’s KL2 it was Dave Phillipson who took the spoils ahead of Rio 2016 Paralympic bronze medalist Nick Beighton, with a fine set of victories across the three rounds, including a blistering personal best time of 42.54 in the first round.

Subject to selection, Dave will now hope to secure a boat quota place for the KL2 at the final qualifying event in Szeged in May.

Dave Phillipson said:

“It’s been a pretty long but quick day! My first race was really fast, I felt really controlled and powerful. I got a PB and a course record. I’ve been training really well leading up to this, so it’s been brilliant to get back out on the water.

“The nerves kicked in like they usually do, which is a good thing. It’s great to get back out, and to hopefully have Tokyo this year. There’s so much you can do in training but as an athlete you just want to get out there and race, and it was a great buzz to do that.”

Rio 2016 bronze medallist Ian Marsden (Trentham) was also in fine form, on his return to water in the Men’s KL1, stringing together a series of strong races, recording 50.85 in the first round.

Ian Marsden said:

"It’s been okay compared to some disruptions in training. I haven’t done a lot of speed work recently having missed sessions on the water, the gym’s been okay but there are still things to do on the water. We’re slowly moving.

"It’s about getting some sort of race mode. It was 2019 since the last race, we’ve done race practices but it’s just not quite the same and the processes aren’t the same."

In the canoe sprint events Rio 2016 Olympic Champion Liam Heath (Wey) put down a strong performance in his season opener, recording an impressive time of 34.03 in the K1 Men’s 200m, finishing ahead of Lewis Fletcher (Linlithgow) and Dan Atkins (Reading).

Liam, who has already been selected by Team GB for the Tokyo Olympic Games was pleased with his performance.

“The hardship of the training and all the effort that goes into it from me and so many other people behind the scenes, so to be able to actually come out here and race has been absolutely incredible. It’s a great feeling to be in those start buckets again looking down that lane again after such a long time. 

“It’s less that 100 days until Tokyo now – it’s coming up quickly! It always happens – it seems to take forever to get anywhere and then it all happens at once. I’ve just got to keep my focus on that end goal, really throw myself into training as much as possible, and hopefully that will help me pop out at competitions in good form.”

Deborah Kerr (Strathclyde) continued her impressive early season form to the add the K1 Women’s 500m to her victory yesterday in the K1 200m, in a time of 1:52.23 ahead of the fast finishing Emma Russell (Chelmsford) in second and Emily Lewis (Worcester) third.

Speaking after the K1 500m Deborah said:

That was really tough. I could see Emily’s pink boat the whole way down until the last 100m, and I knew Emma and Rebii were going to come up behind me. In that last 100m I told myself I just needed to stay on top of it and I think I managed to do that. 

“The 200m and the 500m are very different events, but yesterday did give me the confidence in terms of my start and my top speed. I still get nervous about that last 300m but I think I’ve shown myself today that it’s not that much of an issue.”

Deborah also combined with Rebii Simon (Elmbridge) to take her third victory of the weekend in the K2 Women’s 500m,  the duo finishing over three seconds ahead of Lucy Lee-Smith (Norwich) and Sam Rees-Clark (Nottingham) in the final.

After winning the men’s K1 1000m on Saturday, Charlie Smith (Leighton Buzzard) claimed a second win of the weekend, with Luke Shaw (Norwich) in the Men’s K2 1000m, finishing in 3:23.82 ahead of Dan and Matt Johnson (Chelmsford) and Magnus Gregory/Luke Harding (Longridge).

Subject to ratification by the International Panel, the canoe sprint athletes selected will head out to the ICF European Selection event in Szeged, Hungary (12-13 May) and the ICF Global qualifying event in Barnaul, Russia (21-22 May), to aim to secure their berths for Tokyo.

Paul Ratcliffe, Performance Director at British Canoeing, was pleased with the high standard of racing over the weekend, stating:

Scott Simon, Interim Flatwater Head Coach at British Canoeing added:

Tim Scott, Chair of the Sprint Racing Committee said: