Tokyo dreams were made at a sun drenched National Water Sports Centre, Nottingham today, as Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls competed to continue on their selection journeys.
In uncharacteristic fine weather, Britain’s best flat water racers were in action for the first time in over 18 months at an event held under Covid-19 restrictions and protocols, looking to secure selection for the 2021 senior Great Britain international teams and onwards to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Subject to ratification by the International Panel, the winning canoe sprint athletes have secured their places on the British team which 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), in order to secure their berths for the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games.
Members of the paracanoe team were also in action and looking to put themselves in contention for the Paralympic Games, with boat quota and individual spots also up for grabs at the final qualifying event in Szeged Hungary next month which will round off their selection process.
Emma Wiggs, who is looking to make Paralympic history by competing in two canoeing events in Tokyo, put down three good races in the VL2 women, putting her in contention for selection for the postponed Paralympic Games in August. She goes again in the women’s KL2 tomorrow.
The reigning VL2 World Champion said: “I’m dead happy with my races. It was really important for me to be able to get to the start lines. We’ve done some practice racing in training but it’s never quite the same as lining up at a regatta.
“During the first lockdown we were all at home and had 15 weeks off the water but we’ve been really lucky, the coaches have put in place some really good plans as the world changed and we’ve been really lucky to be back in the high performance centre. It’s been a real learning curve and I think the things we’ve learned will stand us in good stead going forward to Tokyo hopefully as a team.
“We’re going to have a strong squad that will hopefully come out as the world leading paracanoe team come Tokyo.
“It’s certainly the plan to be part of that incredible team and to try and deliver some history again.
"It would mean a lot to be part of that.”
She was joined by Stuart Wood, who in a world class field of international medallists, won all three of the men’s VL3 races, doing everything he can to impress the selectors and secure a spot at his debut games.
After his final race he said: “I’m happy with my performance today, I think I probably got better as the three rounds went on and the nerves settled.
“In the past I’ve come into these selection regattas as a bit of an underdog, whereas this time I felt a lot more comfortable, which almost put more pressure on me. I just needed to go out there and make sure I delivered.
“With lockdown it’s been a bit different for everyone. It really helped that my girlfriend is also a paddler because we could keep pushing each other through the whole thing.
“In a way the lockdown helped me because my weakness has always been my endurance, and I found myself in a position where there wasn’t anything else I could really work on for six months. I was able to hit that in a way I wouldn’t normally.
“Having a year without competitions has meant we’ve been able to have a massive run into this year, and I’m feeling on really good form.
“It would be massive to go to Tokyo. We all train towards going to the Games, and especially after the last year or so it would be particularly special.”
In the men’s VL2 Stewart Clark, qualified his spot for the British team,subject to ratification from the International Panel, and will go out to Szeged, Hungary next month looking to qualify his quota place and individual berth for the postponed Games.
“I was a bit hesitant to start with today but the event’s been great. I wish I could have done another race, and built the momentum up even more.
“It 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.
“It’s all about getting faster now, faster out of the blocks, and fine-tuning the technical skills.”
Their fate is now in the hands of the selectors with the team due to be announced in June at the conclusion of the selection process.
In the Olympic events, Katie Reid (Forth) took the top spot in the women’s C1 200m event, putting clear water between her and second place Afton Fitzhenry (Belfast Canoe Club) to book her place in Hungary, subject to ratification by the International Panel, where Tokyo selection opportunities are up for grabs.
She said: “I’m still relatively new to the sport so having that extra year was never going to be a bad thing. I used last year to put in some really hard training and I’ve made some huge improvements.
“The time wasn’t too fast but it was great to get out racing again, get the result, and to be able to look ahead to Hungary now.
“It’s good to have that one in the bag after a long time away from racing. While it was a selection regatta one of the main things today was blowing off some cobwebs and gaining some momentum.
“Racing gives you that buzz that training doesn’t, and I’m really excited and motivated to really kick on into the rest of the season now.”
Afton returned in the C2 500m along with Chloe Bracewell (Lincoln) and posted a time of 2:04:91 as they looked to book their spot in Szeged next month.
Afton said: “I’m really pleased with our performance. We were really focusing on the process rather than the time.
“We’re constantly trying to find new ways of driving down the lane.
“We’ve not paddled together for five years so it’s been a long time but coming back together over the last couple of months has been really good. I don’t think it’s hindered us at all – if anything we’ve gained more experience outside of the boat that has brought us together better.”
Chloe added: “It was really good to get back out there. It was quite nerve-wracking because it was the first time we’ve actually been together for a few years in a race, so it was really good to get the practice in and it’s a good stepping stone moving forward.
“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.”
Leighton Buzzard’s Charlie Smith stunned himself taking victory in the K1M 1000m. He stormed down the last 100m to take victory almost two seconds clear of the field.
He said: “Coming into it this regatta I didn’t expect to win, so I’m just really excited. I was hoping to be in the top three, but I had a really good race, it was a really strong 100m to finish it off, so I’m over the moon.
“The win was completely unexpected because there were some really strong guys in the field.
“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 today.
“I hadn’t planned for it, but I’m really excited to hopefully get out to Hungary and race now.
“I literally have no idea about expectations over there. I’ll sit down with my coach and work out where I can improve, and set some new goals for the rest of the season.”
And an emotional Deborah Kerr of Strathclyde Canoe Club bagged the K1W 200m top spot. With her sights set on the 500m tomorrow, the winter work on her start has clearly paid off as she was almost a second clear of the rest of the field.
She said: “I’ve not really trained for the 200 this year, but one of the gaps I wanted to make up last year was my start and top speed. That’s the best evidence of my training, so I’m really pleased.
“A big thing for me this year has been my psyche and my mindset. I made the effort to get in contact with all the different support staff I needed to close that gap. I’ve never raced as calmly as I have now, and I’ve never felt as calm during time trials. I can see it makes a difference, and it’s come out in my racing.
“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. Even just winning the national regatta is really emotional.”
Ealing’s Trevor Thompson and Reading’s Dan Atkins won an extremely competitive K2M 500m, pipping Ieuan James (Forth) and Philip Miles (Royal Leamington Spa) to second place and with Chelmsford’s Matthew Johnson and Daniel Johnson in third.
In the C1M 1000m final, Fladbury’s Jonathan Jones was first over the line ahead of Arthur Leech and Thomas Lambert.
The second day of the Sprint and Paracanoe selection event will be back tomorrow and you can follow all the action across the day at www.britishcanoeing.org.uk/liv...