A week ago Kimberley Woods did not even know if she would be able to compete at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships following a car accident.
But in the space of 24 hours she has won K1 team gold and beat the Olympic gold and silver medallists in the heats of the Women's C1 in Bratislava, also qualifying her spot in the K1 semi-finals.
Woods and her coach Craig Morris were involved in a car accident last Wednesday that initially left her unable to walk just a week out from the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.
Simply getting to the start appeared unlikely at that point, but not only has Woods made it, she was part of the kayak team that won the world title on Wednesday and followed it up by reaching the semi-finals of the K1 and C1 following the heats of both events on Thursday.
While her performance in the K1 was not perfect, finishing 16th to reach Saturday’s semi-finals, it was in the C1 that she really caught the eye.
Her time of 92.11 was the best run of the heats, beating compatriot Mallory Franklin, who won silver in this event in Tokyo, by 1.36 seconds, with Olympic champion Jessica Fox third, a further 0.59 seconds back.
Considering the C1 position is still the most painful one for Woods, it was a remarkable achievement.
She said: “I didn’t expect it at all, I was just happy to be on the start line so I’m super pleased.
Just being on the start line was an achievement for me. I never quite believed I was capable of a run like that because I haven’t for quite some time.– Kimberley Woods
"I’m super happy to put a run down like that, let alone going into first ahead of the Olympic gold and silver medallists. It was quite a big thing.
“Last Wednesday, myself and my coach were involved in a pretty nasty crash on the way home from training. It was pretty scary, I couldn’t weight bear at all on my left leg, on my ankle. They thought I’d broken something, but thankfully it doesn’t seem that I have. The next day I was on a wheelchair, then on crutches and I was able to walk with a limp. Today is the first day I can walk pretty normally. But that whole experience has been pretty scary. I only really got onto the white water again on Sunday.”
Woods and Franklin will be joined in Sunday’s semi-final by Beth Forrow, who came through the second run with a brilliant performance, recording the fifth best time of the day.
The Under-23 world champion had missed a gate on her first run but responded brilliantly under pressure and was thrilled to come through.
She said: “I’m super happy and relieved as well. It’s something you have to learn to get used to, being under that pressure.
“I find it hard to not look at the other girls on the start list. It’s about trying to get some perspective on the processes and staying on the right track. It’s very easy to get nervous.
“I just let myself build into the run. I was nervous before I got into the start blocks but I was settled as soon as I got started and really just built into it and let myself paddle as freely as I normally would and that paid off.
“I had a feeling it would be faster than my first run, I had fire in my belly. It just felt right. I was just being in the moment. When I crossed the line, I was just so happy.”
Forrow was one of four paddlers to come through the second runs, with Fiona Pennie joining Woods and Franklin to reach the K1 semi-finals in the morning, while Adam Burgess and Peter Linksted did the same in the afternoon in the men’s C1, with David Florence having qualified third fastest on the first run.
The three-time Olympic silver medallist has been on the podium twice this summer during the World Cup series and has consistently performed well all season.
He put down a clean run to qualify in third place, safely through to the semi-finals on Sunday morning.
Florence said: “It's always good to qualify and I had a pretty good run. It was good to finish high up, it was pretty tight in a lot of the field. It's a good start really.
I have had some pretty good performances this season so I'm definitely paddling well. I've enjoyed training out here and it was a good performance to start it off so I'm pretty happy with where I'm at.– David Florence
“I've got a wee while now, it's all pretty spread out. I've got a bit of a rest tomorrow and then the following day I'll head down to watch the Kayak finals and it will be a good chance to prepare for Sunday.”
British Canoeing head coach Mark Ratcliffe was delighted at the way the team had performed in those crucial races.
He said: “The three that have just been this afternoon did really well under pressure. You have young members of the team in Beth and Peter, they had a really strong delivery. It’s a very tight heat because the course is quite open so it’s making it very punishing on mistakes. So I’m very pleased for them.”
Of the 12 possible semi-final spots, British paddlers made 11, with Chris Bowers and Bradley Forbes-Cryans also qualifying for Saturday’s K1 semi-finals.
Bowers was the quickest of the Brits, qualifying in 13th ahead of Olympian Forbes-Cryans who also qualified at the first time of asking, just over a second behind Bowers in 22nd.
The only paddler to miss out was Joe Clarke, who looked set to make it in the K1 second run, only to need a paddle back on the penultimate gate that cost him his chances.
Ratcliffe added: “I was gutted for Joe this morning. He looked like he would put the fastest run of the day down, it was a very good run until the last two gates which are, on the face of it quite simple, but just a little lapse or a little bit of water on the last section has cost him qualifying.
“He was pretty gutted. He will work through it this evening and he’s got extreme slalom starting tomorrow which gives him something else to focus on.”
Clarke will go in the extreme slalom time trials on Friday afternoon, with the British Wildwater team also back in action in the morning.
You can follow all the action live via the options below:
British Canoeing Live Blog
ICF Live stream
Schedule for Friday 24 September
0740 WK1 Laura Milne
0815 MK1 Jacob Holmes
0818 MK1 Robert Jeffries
0824 MK1 Freddie Brown
Extreme Slalom Time Trials
1314 Mallory Franklin
1320 Kimberley Woods
1328 Fiona Pennie
1334 Nikita Setchell
1428 Chris Bowers
1434 Bradley Forbes-Cryans
1439 Joe Clarke
1442 Jake Brown
Kimberley Woods (Rugby) - 16th in heats in 96.90 and qualifies for the semi-final
Mallory Franklin (Windsor) - 17th in heats in 96.93 and qualifies for the semi-final
Fiona Pennie (CR Cats) - 24th in the first run in 97.88 / 2nd in the second run 91.51 and qualifies for the semi-final
Chris Bowers (Stafford & Stone) - 13th in the first run in 84.19 and qualifies for the semi-final
Bradley Forbes-Cryans (Stafford & Stone) - 22nd in the first run 85.38 and qualifies for the semi-final
Joe Clarke (Stafford & Stone) - 36th in the first run 86.71 / 16th in the second run in 90.11
Kimberley Woods - 1st in first run 92.11 and qualifies for the semi-final
Mallory Franklin - 2nd in the first run in 93.47 and qualifies for the semi-final
Bethan Forrow - 40th in the first run 152.84 / 2nd in second run in 95.40 and qualifies for the semi-final
David Florence - 3rd in the first run 86.57 and qualifies for the semi-final
Adam Burgess - 24th in the first run 89.92 / 3rd in the second run 88.85 and qualifies for the semi-final
Peter Linksted - 29th in the first run 91.47 / 8th in the second run in 91.22 and qualifies for the semi-final