Olympians and Olympic Hopefuls Impress at 2020 Oceania Canoe Sprint Champs

Olympians & Tokyo 2020 Hopefuls Impress at First Round of Selection Trials at Oceania Canoe Sprint Championships

Five months out from the Tokyo 2020 Games, Australia’s canoe sprint paddlers have wrapped up the 2020 Oceania Canoe Sprint Association’s Canoe Sprint Continental Championships and Olympic qualifier securing five additional Olympic canoe sprint quota spots and setting a first mark ahead of the final round Olympic team selections in March.

With the event doubling up as the Oceania Olympic Continental Qualifier as well as the first round of national team selection trials for Olympic and U23 team selections, a lot was at stake at the three-day event at Sydney International Regatta Centre.

On Friday, Australia provisionally added five additional Olympic canoe sprint quota spots to the ten spots that the team already secured at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships last year and took home two additional spots in the women’s kayaking and women’s canoeing events, as well as one quota spot in the men’s C1 1000.

With the maximum canoe sprint quotas locked away, all attention on Saturday and Sunday turned to the relevant selection racing with the event the first of two events counting towards Olympic and U23 national team selection and with names on seats yet to be decided and international standard times to be met.

Rio Olympians Alyce Wood (nee Burnett) and Alyssa Bull (QLD) made the most of their opportunity to set an early mark taking home the win in the women’s K2 500 on Saturday and following up with a first and second place in the women’s K1 500 on Sunday respectively. Wood also added a second place behind British triple Olympian Jessica Walker in the women’s K1 200 to a round out a successful regatta.

The Sunshine Coasters were thrilled to be back in the women’s K2, the boat class they raced in at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Alyce Wood & Alyssa Bull – Photo credit JGR Images 

“We absolutely love the K2, it’s been great to be able to focus on that again this year and it is like going home again. Just the feeling of the K2 going well, nothing beats it. The nerves were high, that’s for sure and the pressure coming into this weekend was a lot different to what we are used to. Everyone is targeting us but it is really nice to get out there and have a nice race,” Alyce Wood said.

“The K2 is good fun and all the girls are racing really fast so the competition is hot out there. The girls are racing well in the K2 and we have everything to lose and everyone else has everything to gain,” Bull added, about the pair going into the final round of selections ranked as the top pairing.

London Olympian Jo Brigden-Jones (NSW) also wrapped up a strong start to selections with a third place in the women’s K1 500 on Sunday, after finishing second in the women’s K2 500 together with Jaime Roberts (WA) on Saturday.

Jo Brigden-Jones & Jaime Roberts - Photo JGR Images 

Jo Brigden-Jones & Jaime Roberts – Photo JGR Images 

“It’s been a good regatta and our two main selection races (women’s K2 and K1 500) went pretty well. Jaime and I have spent more time together in the boat this year with Jaime spending a fair bit of time in Sydney and training with me in Narrabeen and it’s been nice to work on a boat a bit more and it has become a bit more consistent,” Brigden-Jones said about her partnership with Roberts.

“We will go back training now and be back for nationals in a few weeks’ time. A lot of the weighting for selections is on nationals, so the K1 race there will be a hot one, which is exciting. And by the time we recover from this event, I’m sure time will go pretty quickly and we’ll be gearing up for nationals already. Bring it on” Jo Brigden-Jones added.

Australia’s women’s kayakers provisionally secured the maximum Olympic quota of six spots at the Oceania Continental Qualifier with South Australian Cat McArthur and Queenslander Brianna Massie securing Australia the final two quota spots in the K2 500 Oceania qualifier race on Friday. They backed up a strong regatta with a third place in the women’s K2 500 final on Saturday.

“A big shout out to Cat and Bri (Brianna) getting an extra two spots for the team. It’s going to be very exciting to be able to send six girls to the Games comes Tokyo time,” Alyssa Bull said giving credit to her team mates.

Brianna Massie & Cat McArthur - Photo JGRImages

Brianna Massie & Cat McArthur – Photo JGRImages 

This is the first time since London 2012 that Australia’s women’s kayakers have secured the maximum quota after Alyce Wood, Alyssa Bull, Jo Brigden-Jones and Jaime Roberts already secured the first four quotas in the K4 500 at last year’s world championships.

“Before Rio, we missed qualifying the K4 so in 2016 we had to qualify the K2 which is what Bully and I did and we had to qualify the K1 as well. So, it’s so different this year having a full quota now. This was the first round of selection so the wins don’t really mean a lot unless we back it up again at nationals but you got to put your best foot forward and we had some good races,” Alyce Wood explained.

Women's K1 Wood, Bull, Brigden-Jones - Photo JGRImages

Women’s K1 Wood, Bull, Brigden-Jones – Photo JGRImages 

While Brigden-Jones, Wood and Bull are aiming for their second Olympic Games, Queensland’s Tom Green and Jean van der Westhuyzen are the youngsters and new kids on the block when it comes to Olympic selection.

20-year old Green was the stand-out paddler across the men’s kayaking events taking home the win in the men’s K1 1000, K1 500 as well as in the men’s K2 1000 and U23 K2 1000.

Green - Photo JGR Images

Green – Photo JGR Images 

Green, who took home a double world champion title last year in the U23 men’s K1 1000 as well as the U23 men’s K4 500 last year, and made A finals at the Senior World Championships, also won all his heats and semi-finals in these events.

He kicked off a successful weekend securing early U23 selection in the men’s K2 1000 together with Jean van der Westhuyzen on Thursday with the duo wrapping up the event with an impressive win in the Open K2 1000 on Sunday.

“We went out a bit harder than usual and followed Muzz and Lachie right next to us and just tried to push and keep it nice and consistent in the middle and drive a strong finish and luckily we were able to do that. We are both pretty buggered but really stoked with it,” Jean van der Westhuyzen said about the race that saw them win in an impressive time of 3:12.27 and 1.74 seconds ahead of London Olympic Champion Murray Stewart (NSW) and Rio Olympic medallist Lachlan Tame (NSW).

Rio Olympians and 2019 K2 combination of Riley Fitzsimmons (NSW) and Jordan Wood (QLD) finished third.

Green and van der Westhuyzen are only a young and new combination, who have only paddled the K2 together since December and with Westhuyzen also coming second in both the men’s K1 1000 and 500 they will be the ones to watch going into the final round of selections in March.

“It all started out at GP1 in December and we kind of did it for a bit of fun but when NSW State Champs came around we had a pretty good race and thought we might have a good chance here, so we just kept training as per usual and it’s slowly getting better and better,” Green said about their new combination.

“We will have a solid block of training between now and nationals and keep listening to the coaches and the advice they can give us to keep improving and hopefully come out at nationals and have another good, fun race with the boys,” van der Westhuyzen added about the next steps ahead.

Tokyo 2020 would be the first Olympic Games for the two 20 year-olds and even though they still have another major hurdle to jump, aiming for Tokyo is what drives them.

“It’s always been a drive for me and Jean as well and it’s been good to be able to share this not only with Jean but also with the rest of our team back on the Gold Coast. It’s more of a family than a team I guess and there’s always a bit of rivalry,” Green added about racing his training mates for Olympic selection.

Jordan Wood finished third behind Green and van der Westhuyzen in the men’s K1 1000 and K1 500 and teamed up with Riley Fitzsimmons, Lachlan Tame and Murray Stewart to win the men’s K4 500.

MK4 - JGR Images

MK4 – JGR Images 

In other Olympic quota spot news over the weekend, South Australian Sport Institute’s canoeists Bernadette Wallace and Josephine Bulmer wrote sporting history on Friday, securing the first ever women’s canoe quota for Australia, with women’s canoeing to premier on the Olympic Program at Tokyo 2020, but will still have to meet the international performance standards at nationals to be nominated to the team.

In the men’s canoeing, Queensland’s Benjamin Manning secured Australia the Olympic quota on Friday and backed it up with a win in the C1 1000 final on Saturday and in the C1 500 on Sunday.

Other Oceania country spots were provisionally secured by New Zealand’s kayakers (MK1 1000 and MK2 1000 and WK1 200), Samoa’s women’s (WK1 500) and men’s kayakers (MK1 200) – pending Oceania and ICF confirmation.

In other Oceania Championships and GP2 results, up and coming sprint talent Kailey Harlen (NSW) and Ella Beere (NSW) secured their U23 selection with a win in the women’s K2 500 together with Yale Steinepreis (WA) and Mackenzie Duffy (QLD) coming second and also securing selection. Harlen and Beere also made the Open women’s K2 final where they finished fifth.

Harlen, Beere (front) - JGRImages

Harlen, Beere (front) – JGRImages 

18-year old Harlen also made the Open women’s K1 500 where she finished sixth and added an eighth place in the WK1 200. Beere finished sixth in women’s K1 200 and seventh in the K1 500.

The pair wrapped up a strong regatta with a win in the women’s K4 500 together with Jaime Roberts and Brianna Massie.

In the Junior racing, paddlers from the Sunshine Coast Jenaya Massie and Phoebe Wills-Grace impressed winning the women’s K2 500. Jenaya Massie also won the women’s K1 500 18 and finished second in the K1 200 18. She also the women’s K4 500 18 together with Phoebe Wills-Grace, Charli Smyth (SA) and Jasmine Locke (NSW).

Newcomer, Avoca Kayak Club’s Natalia Drobot (NSW) will be another one to watch after finishing a very close second behind Wills-Grace, in the women’s K1 500 18 as a 15-year old.

“We are pretty happy with the regatta and we would love to make the Junior worlds team this year so at nationals the goal will be automatic selection by winning again,” Massie said confidently about the goals ahead.

This was a good hit out for the season and we can’t wait for nationals. We really would like to go to Germany and race at the Junior worlds,” Phoebe Wills-Grace agreed.

Jenaya Massie + Phoebe Wills-Grace - Photo JGRImages

Jenaya Massie + Phoebe Wills-Grace – Photo JGRImages 

In the men’s Junior events, fellow Avoca Kayak Club paddler Fletcher Armstrong has is eyes set on his first Junior team after missing last year’s canoe sprint season following a recovery from an injury.

He won the K2 1000 18 together with Jarrah Sheppard (NSW) as well as the K4 500 18 with Jarrah Sheppard (NSW), Toby Schooley (NSW) and Ashby Allen (NSW).

The under 18 paddler also contested some of the Open events, winning the B-final in the men’s K1 200 and finishing sixth in the B-Final of the men’s K1 1000.

“It’s been really good mixing it up with the Open and getting some race practice in, which was really enjoyable. I raced in the Open to get a bit of a feel what it might be like racing at internationals and getting a feel for the level of racing. I’m pushing to make the Junior team and it’s been exciting to see that I can come back from a year off and still mix it in with everyone so I’m stoked I will be back in under 18s at nationals, have a good dig and see how I go against the boys,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong - Photo JGRImages

Armstrong – Photo JGRImages 

See all results here: http://bit.ly/OceaniaSprint2020Results

Over 150 athletes from ten countries contested the 2020 Oceania Association Canoe Sprint Championship and Paddle Australia Canoe Sprint GP2 with the event kicking off a hot month of paddling on Sydney’s 2000 Olympic canoeing courses.

All eyes will next be on Australia’s canoe slalom paddlers who are contesting the Australian Open Canoe Slalom as part of the Sydney International Whitewater Festival at Penrith Whitewater Stadium next weekend (21-23 February 2020). The event also includes Olympic selection in the men’s K1 and C1 as well as World Cup, U23 and Junior team selections.

Olympic and Paralympic as well as U23 and Junior team selections return to Sydney International Regatta Centre in March for the 2020 Paddle Australian Canoe Sprint Championships (11-15 March 2020)

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