A British team containing a mixture of youth and experience enjoyed an impressive opening day at the 2021 ICF World Cup Final in Pau, with nine of the 12-strong squad booking their places in the semi-finals.
Seasoned campaigners David Florence, Joe Clarke and Fiona Pennie sealed spots in the latter stages while World Cup debutants James Kettle and Ben Haylett were among several promising youngsters to make it through.
David Florence goes into Sunday’s men’s C1 semi-finals just two points behind overall World Cup leader Marko Mirgorodsky – with double points available this weekend – and finished seventh in the heats to safely secure his passage through.
His teammates Peter Linksted and James Kettle required the second heat to join him but came home eighth and 10th respectively to ensure they will be back in action over the weekend, with James recovering from a missed gate on his first run.
“It’s my first World Cup and my first international race for two years, so I’m really pleased I was able to keep it together on the second run,” James said.
“It’s really good to be back racing again, especially on a start line with all these big paddlers.
“I’ll refocus and then give it all I’ve got on Sunday.”
Peter, who is making his second World Cup appearance having debuted last weekend, said: “My first run was technically quite a good run, the penalties just knocked me out [the top 20].
“I had a reset and though my second run was slower, it was cleaner on the penalties and I could sneak in.
“The run was almost there and I just have little bits to improve on ahead of Sunday. I made the semi-finals last week as well and I want to try and build on that.”
Bethan Forrow will be the sole British representative in the latter stages of the women’s C1 as she finished 19th in the first heat.
“I was nervous coming into this race as it’s a new course but I just tried to stay relaxed on the start line and stick to my processes,” she said.
“Most of the run went to plan and I felt good physically today. I was super happy to get through after the first run.
“I’m excited for the weekend. It will be a tough course but I’m just going to enjoy it and put down the best run I can.”
Eilidh Gibson, making her comeback to the senior team, came agonisingly close to qualifying but ended one place outside the top 10 in the second heat despite a clean run. Ellis Miller was two places further back and also narrowly missed out on the semi-finals.
The day had started with the K1 heats and Joe Clarke set the pace in the men’s event as the only competitor to come home in sub-95 seconds.
The Rio 2016 Olympic Champion is fighting on multiple fronts in Pau and hopes this proves to be the start of a memorable weekend.
“I’m pleased with my run today, I just kept it smooth,” he said.
“I knew three-quarters of the way down I was on a good run so it was a case of reigning it in a little bit just to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes.
“I’m sitting fourth overall in the extreme slalom too, so it’s really important to have a good run here and get on the podium.”
The fastest qualifier will be joined in Saturday’s K1 semi-finals by Chris Bowers, who finished 19th, and Ben Haylett, whose 10th place on the second run saw him squeeze through on his World Cup bow.
“I had a bit of a shaky start this morning, so it was nice to qualify on the second run with a decent time,” said Ben, who has just turned 20.
“It’s really eye-opening to see how different it is on the senior circuit. It’s great to see how the guys operate on race days and it’s quite nice to be racing against people you’ve been watching since you were 10 years old.
“It’s good all three of us got through, now it’s onwards and upwards to the next stage.”
The women’s K1 heats saw Megan Hamer-Evans and Fiona Pennie qualify in 17th and 19th respectively, the former making it through in her first World Cup outing of the year.
“It’s my first time qualifying for the semi-finals on my first run at a World Cup, so I’m really pleased,” said Megan.
“I was super clear and confident in my plan and just focused on delivering as closely to that as possible.
“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to come out here, race and be on the international start line again. I’ll definitely take confidence from this run and I’ll see what I can do in the semi-finals.”
Amber Maslen was unable to join her compatriots in the latter stages as she finished 29th in the first run before unfortunately paying the price for two missed gates second time around.
Follow all of the action over the weekend, including a live stream and results, via the ICF website.