Stephens happy to let team find their feet in Szeged

Australian Canoeing National Performance Director Shaun Stephens is happy to set the bar low for the team competing at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup in Szeged, Hungary, this week.

It’s very much a new-look team from the one that went to the Rio Olympics last year, with Kenny Wallace, Alyssa Bull, Alyce Burnett and Jordan Wood the only paddlers from Brazil who will be competing this weekend.

But Stephens is excited about the squad overall, and their long-term potential.

“Obviously in the year post-Olympics it’s a smaller team, with some of the bigger names choosing to stay home, but that just creates more opportunities for some of the young crew coming through,” he said in Szeged on Thursday.

“They’re excited to train among some of the more established athletes like Kenny Wallace. They’ve really stepped up.

“There was a bit of trepidation coming in, but they’ve settled in well, and have really impressed us over the past week.”

The Australians have spent the week at their European base in Szolnok, missing the opening World Cup of the season at Montemor-o-Velho last weekend. It’s the first time Stephens has seen the base.

“It’s been a great set-up which head coach Jimmy Owens has established over a long period of time,” Stephens said.

“It really is an impressive base that he’s set up. It’s fantastic, and we’re looking forward to improving on it even further.”

More than 800 athletes from 66 nations, among them Olympic gold medallists and World Champions, will be competing in Szeged. So what are Stephens’ expectations for his young team?

“Zero, to be honest,” he said.

“It’s a new crew, and it’s all about going about their process, and getting their process right, seeing where they are at.

“Obviously we don’t really know where our competition lies in year one of the Olympic quadrennial, they just need to put together a good block towards this year’s World Championships.”

The ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 2 begins on Friday night, Australian time. All races will be streamed on the Planet Canoe website.

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