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Sprint and Paracanoe teams return to international scene

After 20 months away from international competition, a 15-strong flatwater team return to racing once again as they descend on Szeged, Hungary for the 2021 Canoe Sprint European Olympic Qualifier on 12/13 May and World Cup 1 (Paralympic Qualifier) on 13-16 May.

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The squad return to Szeged for some all important racing as they seek further boat quota spots for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the same location the team last competed on international waters at the 2019 World Championships. 

The first two days comprise the European Olympic Qualifiers, with six athletes all bidding for remaining boat quota spots ahead of the Tokyo Games in the summer.

Racing the K1 women’s 200m is Deborah Kerr off the back of a very successful domestic selection event. Deborah has a wealth of international experience and won a junior World Championship bronze medal in the distance from 2015. She was part of the women’s K4 crew that raced in Szeged two years ago, but after the Strathclyde Canoe Club athlete took the victory in Nottingham she will race individually this week.

Speaking ahead of Szeged, Deborah said:

“In 2016 I was heartbroken not to get to the second round of selection, even though I was only 18. This is about me saying to my 18-year-old self that I can get to that next step and we’ll just go from there.

There’s definitely a chance, with everything I’ve worked on. I’ve just to take it. It would mean so much to get to Tokyo.

– Deborah Kerr

Katie Reid will be racing the women’s C1 200m after winning the selection event in April. Katie has made strong progress in the boat over the years, and after coming 11th at the World Championships in Szeged, she will be putting everything into the European Olympic Qualifier, with her target to win top spot.

Katie’s pleased with her progress over the last year and can’t wait to be racing once again.

I used last year to put in some really hard training and I’ve made some huge improvements. It is exciting to see what I can put down in Szeged.

– Katie Reid

“The regatta was great to get some momentum of racing. You do one race and and you just want to carry that on. You learn the more you race so I am definitely excited for the coming races.”

Chloe Bracewell and Afton Fitzhenry will join forces to take on C2W 500m after booking their spot in Szeged following the racing in Nottingham. This will be the first time the pair have competed internationally together for some time, but will go to Hungary looking to make their mark on the event.

Afton said: 

I’m so excited ahead of the racing in Hungary. We have absolutely nothing to lose. Our boat is just getting better and better every week and we have been full steam ahead as we head to the European Olympic qualifiers and World Cup in Szeged.

– Afton Fitzhenry

Chloe added: “Hungary’s a big opportunity for us but we’ve got nothing to lose, so we’ll give it our all and see what happens. We are really looking forward to it.”

After an exceptional selection regatta, Charlie Smith will be occupying the men’s K1 1000m spot. Charlie has a number of international medals to his name in canoe marathon, but after putting in a lot of hard work during the last year, he will line up for his first K1M 1000m senior race after winning selection.

I’ve had my head down for the last 18 months and it’s been a really good opportunity to get a lot of work done and thankfully it showed at the selection regatta.

– Charlie Smith

“I hadn’t planned for it, but I’m really excited to get out to Hungary and race now.”

With seven of the nine boat quota spots secured for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, three British paracanoe athletes will be competing as they look to try and win the final two places available at the Paralympic qualifiers during World Cup 1.

After winning the selection race in Nottingham, Dave Phillipson will be racing the men’s KL2. Dave has two international medals to his name during the two years he has competed internationally, and will be looking to make an impact after winning the B Final at the 2019 World Championships. He will be joined on the start line by Paralympic bronze medallist Nick Beighton, who won his medal at paracanoe’s Games debut at Rio 2016 and has since gone to claim further medals since.

Stewart Clark will be the sole competitor in the men’s VL2. Having initially made his international debut for Great Britain in Szeged back in 2011, the Chelmsford athlete rejoined the World Class Programme in 2019, and too won the men’s B final at the World Championships that same year. 20 months on and an extra year's worth of training under his belt, Stewart is fully focussed on Szeged.

“The selection regatta was important just to prove to myself that I can be competitive after all this time. Hungary’s my key focus now, nothing really matters apart from that. Once I get there hopefully I can concentrate on Tokyo, then.

To get to Tokyo would be a lifelong ambition come true. To come back at this age is quite amazing, and to be allowed to come back and compete competitively is great – I couldn’t think of anything better.

– Stewart Clark

“It’s all about getting faster now, faster out of the blocks, and fine-tuning the technical skills.”

Current Olympic Champion Liam Heath will take on the men’s K1 200m at the World Cup as he gears up for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games later this summer. After storming to gold at the 2019 World Championships in Szeged, Liam will be taking on the World Cup as preparation for his third Olympic Games after being announced for TeamGB in October 2019.

“It’s less than 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.

I am sure I will be in the best position to hit the Tokyo Games as hard as I can.

– Liam Heath MBE

Deborah Kerr and Emma Russell will race the women’s K1 500m after it was recently announced Great Britain has been allocated the boat quota spot for the Tokyo Olympic Games. The pair showed great power and pace at the selection event in Nottingham and pushed each other all the way, with Deborah taking the victory ahead of Chelmsford’s Emma Russell in April. 

Elsewhere, Emily Lewis will join Deborah Kerr in the K1 women’s 200m heats at the World Cup. Emily was part of the K4 crew boat with Deborah in 2019, but also raced the K1 200m at World Cup 2 in Duisburg, where she finished 16th.

Experienced international racer Tom Lusty will be on the start list for the men's K1 1000m alongside Charlie Smith. In 2019, Tom showed he can compete at the top of the event, with an 11th place finish in World Cup 2 and finishing 14th at the World Championships.

Rob Oliver will be racing the men’s KL3 after winning the selection event last month. Rob was part of the squad who competed in paracanoe’s debut at Rio 2016 and has had a successful Tokyo cycle so far, including a silver medal at the 2019 World Cup in Poznan.

Hungary is a great opportunity to see where I am in terms of the rest of the world. I feel good, I feel strong and relaxed. Szeged is going to be a good competition in a year I am looking forward to.

– Rob Oliver

After making her international debut during the 2019 season, winning three medals including silver at the World Championships, Laura Sugar will line up in the women’s KL3. Laura put in some incredible runs during the selection race in April, with one of her deliveries registering as a world’s best time. 

Jack Eyers completes the line up taking on the waters in Szeged as he takes on the men’s VL3. He first competed internationally in 2018 and took home bronze medals in both the European and World Championships. 

Racing gets underway at 9am on 12 May with Katie Reid first up in the women’s C1 200m

You can find all the start lists across the week here

You can follow all the action here including the ICF live stream