Canoe Sprint Hopefuls Return With Olympic Dreams From Olympic Hopes

Paddle Australia’s emerging canoe sprint talent has returned from the 2019 Olympic Hopes canoe sprint regatta with high hopes and dreams for the future after a promising performance in Bratislava, Slovakia last weekend (13-15 September).

The Olympic Hopes regatta is recognised as one of the pinnacle international canoe sprint events for athletes, who are under 15, 16 and 17 of age and Australia’s team of eleven paddlers returned home much richer for the experience of racing against some of the best junior kayakers and canoeists their age in the world, including Europe’s canoe racing powerhouses.

All of Australia’s paddlers made it through to the semi-finals with Western Australian Luke Egger qualifying for the 17 Boys K1 200 A final where he finished eighth. South Australia’s women canoeists Rachel Donnelly and Lauren Burchard also made the A final and finished ninth.

Due to the size of this year’s Olympic Hopes regatta the organising committee introduced B finals for events where there were more than four heats. This added to the regatta and gave additional opportunities for athletes to compete through to the finals round with Australia securing five B final spots.

New South Welshmen Toby Schooley and Ashby Allenwon the B final in the 15/16 boys K2 1000 with Toby Schooley also adding a sixth place in the B final in the 16 Boys K1 500.

The team youngsters Demi Bates (SA) and Daniel Hardwick (QLD) also made the B final with Bates finishing fifth in the B final of the 15 Girls K1 500, while Hardwick finished ninth in the 15 Boys K1 200 B final. Demi Bates also finished eighth in the 15/16 Girls K2 500 together with Chaise Richardson.

“The Olympic hopes regatta was a massive eye opener for me and I loved it. It showed me the depth of paddling from all across the world,” first time Olympic Hopes paddler Ashby Allen said after the event.

The Olympic Hopes regatta wrapped up a successful first season for the Avoca Kayak Club paddler, who only transferred from surf ski into kayaking last year. Following a strong performance at nationals earlier in the season, the 16-year old was selected on to his first international teams to contest the Asia Pacific Cup in New Zealand in May as well as last weekend’s Olympic Hopes regatta.

In Bratislava, Allen raced the men’s K1 as well as the men’s K2 100 together with Sydney Northern Beaches paddler Toby Schooley (NSW) with the pair winning the B-final. He also made the K1 semi-finals.

“It was great to be able to paddle the K2 with Toby and to get a solid result in the K2 1000 B final with him. This final was held late in the afternoon after I had raced that whole day so we really had to dig deep and put down a solid performance. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the finals in my K1 events, but I plan to learn from this and improve dramatically over the years,” Allen said about his goals for the future.

This year’s regatta saw 838 athletes from 36 nations line up for the biggest ever Olympic Hopes regatta, which gave Australia’s young athletes the opportunity to gain invaluable international experience and hope to build on in the coming domestic season where some will be vying for National Junior Team selection to compete at the 2020 Junior World Championships.

The team also had champion support and the opportunity to train and compete under the eye of Olympic champion Ken Wallace (QLD) who travelled with the squad as lead coach.

“It was a great honour to have Kenny Wallace as our lead coach. He’s a really good bloke, has a lot of experience racing at an international level and has so much to teach us. I learnt from him how to prepare for a race, what to do and what not to do, to always back up for your mates and always give 100%.” Allen said about his learnings from being coached by Wallace.

The event also sparked some Olympic dreams in Allen, who is hoping for more international canoe sprint teams in the future.

“I plan to keep pursuing kayaking, train hard, learn how to improve and keep making international teams as I loved every part of this trip. My main goal for the future is to achieve the ‘Olympic dream’.

Sunshine Coaster Phoebe Wills-Grace also has set her eyes set on the Olympic games in the future and was thankful for the opportunity to gain more international racing experience on her second Olympic Hopes team.

“The whole trip was such a great experience. I learnt so much racing at the international level and having Kenny coaching was just incredible too. He has so much knowledge and being able to draw on that for two weeks solid was just amazing.” Wills-Grace said.

And thanking the coaching and support team the 17-year old Kawana Waters paddler added, “we were very blessed with the team we had supporting us. The days were so long for them as there was so much to organise for quite a big team and we really, really appreciated it. All in all, it was an amazing trip with so many lessons to bring home and work on for the coming season.”

For the first time, Australia was also represented in the women’s canoe events with South Australians Lauren Blanchard and Rachel Donnelly making the most of their first international racing experience progressing through to the A-final in the women’s C2 500.

The pair finished ninth in the A final of the 15-16 girls C2 500 and made semi-finals in the C1 events.

“I am very glad with how I went in the C2 500m together with my partner Rachel. Making the A final in a very close heat was great and we were also able to gain semi-final spots in all our races,” Lauren Burchard said.

“This was my first ever international event and I think I have done really well for myself. I think I took a big step forward into the future of my sport for myself and hopefully others in the sport as well,” Burchard reflected on her first international regatta.

“Without this opportunity I would never have learnt the key points of an international competition, like pressure from myself and others, the experience of timing and schedule types because I needed to warmup and be ready whenever I was needed in case there was a delay or something had been cancelled, and the patience you learn to be able to focus on the race I was about to do and nothing that was off water,” Burchard added about her learnings.

Lauren Burchard and Rachel Donnelly are part of a growing number of women canoe paddlers in Australia following the inclusion of women canoeing events on the Olympic program for the Tokyo 2020 Games and beyond and the Olympic Hopes regatta provided the right inspiration for both paddlers to continue their path in the sport they only just recently started.

“Women’s canoe is slowly growing throughout Australia and I couldn’t be prouder about the slowly increasing numbers of new faces in the sport. I have never experienced this type of competition and now that I have seen the standard overseas, I think I am able to set more goals for myself. Now I am wanting to better my times and get a faster time than the girls I have competed against. I now know what I need to achieve and what is needed for myself for future opportunities and races.

“I have more motivation than ever to train harder and achieve better times and I hope to inspire new and upcoming athletes in the sport to achieve higher goals as well for themselves with this motivation,” Burchard said about the inspiration she took away from the event.

Like the rest of the team, she was also thankful for the Olympic-level coaching opportunity and the pathway that has opened up for her to hopefully become an Olympic paddler in the future.

“Kenny was able to teach everyone what to expect at the Olympic Hopes regatta and future races as well. We were given some tricks on the best ways to warm up or down, rules that will appear in the future, and the type of competition we will compete against,” Burchard said.

“With his insight we were able to prepare ourselves for the regatta and help guide our next step on the way to hopefully being an Olympic paddler. My biggest dream since I first learnt about the Olympics was to go there and compete for Australia in my favourite sport. Now I am being given a path on how I would be able to achieve this long-time goal in the future and in my sport sprint canoe and I couldn’t be happier about this opportunity.”

All athletes who competed at this year’s Olympic Hopes regatta are also part of Paddle Australia’s – Canoe Sprint National Talent Squad (NTS) which aims to provide ongoing support for athletes selected as members of the Under 16 and Junior (U18) National Teams, plus additional identified talented athletes.

The NTS initiative aims to assist in athlete preparation towards a higher international performance, through provision of coaching expertise, training opportunities, performance support, athlete education and exposure to high performance environments and practices with the Olympic Hopes regatta as well as the Asia Pacific Cup in May providing a welcome opportunity and pathway to international competition for Australia’s up and coming canoe sprint talent.

See the 2019/20 NTS here:

2019 Olympic Hopes Regatta – Team Australia A and B-Finalists
A Finalists
15/16 Girls C2 500 Rachel Donnelly / Lauren Burchard – 9th
17 Boys K1 200 Luke Egger – 8th

B Finalists
15/16 Boys K2 1000 Toby Schooley/ Ashby Allen – 1st
16 Boys K1 500 Toby Schooley – 6th
15 Girls K1500 Demi Bates – 5th
15/16 Girls K2 500 Demi Bates / Chaise Richardson – 8th
15 Boys K1 200 Daniel Hardwick – 9th

See all 2019 Olympic Hopes results here:

Team Australia at Olympic Hopes regatta
U16 Women:
Demi Bates (SA)
Lauren Burchard (SA, canoe)
Rachael Donnelly (SA, caoe)
Isabelle Rupenovic (NSW)
Chaise Richardson (QLD)

U16 Men:
Toby Schooley (NSW)
Ashby Allen (NSW)
Daniel Hardwick (QLD)

U17 Women:
Phoebe Wills-Grace (QLD)
Alisa Van der Kwartel (NSW)

U17 Men:
Luke Egger (WA)

Lead Coach: Ken Wallace
Canoe Coach/ Coach Support: Christi Florina
Team Manager: Christine Duff


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