It has been a long time without racing for Australia’s whitewater paddlers, but last weekend (Sunday, 15 November) Paddle Australia’s NSW canoe slalom paddlers and those based at Penrith Whitewater Stadium got in their first official race of the 2020/21 summer season.
Dual Olympian Lucien Delfour, who is set to represent Australia at his second Games in Tokyo next year, spearheaded the 2020 Paddle NSW Canoe Slalom Championships and took home the win in the men’s K1. Fellow 2020 Paddle Australia Senior team members Tim Anderson (NSW) and Benjamin Pope (WA) finished second and third respectively.
Following a foot injury, Delfour has only been back in the boat for a few weeks, but despite some ongoing rehab, this did not stop him from taking out the win.
“It felt good to be racing, although the event was obviously quite low key due to current restrictions. I wanted to go fast but the goal was to stay safe and focus on keeping things under control as I still have limited range of movement, as well as limited amount of weight I can put on my foot. It will take a few more weeks to recover properly, but it’s all going well” Delfour explained.
In the women’s K1, Alexandra Broome took out the win ahead of Georgia Rankin with 13-year old Codie Davidson impressing with a third place. Broome also won the women’s C1, once again ahead of Georgia Rankin, with Danielle Latter in third.
U23 paddler Kaylen Bassett won the men’s C1 event, ahead of his training mates and Senior team paddlers Steven Lowther (WA) and Brodie Crawford (WA) respectively. Lowther and Crawford spent a few months back home in Western Australia this year, but have been back in Penrith to train since restrictions were lifted.
“It was really good to be back racing formally. We are all really competitive in the C1 and anyone can win on the day, so I think it should make things interesting for the next few years and hopefully we can continue to push each other with the goal to become a strong C1 nation,” Bassett said after his first NSW State Champs win.
“The high performance team has been working really hard for us to keep doing some race simulations every few weeks, so I didn’t feel too rusty and I think when the borders open and we get more fresh faces it will be a different feeling again and something I look forward to. Plus, having been working with the local canoe club we are wanting to try and replace some races that may have been cancelled over summer,” Bassett added about the current competition situation.
Bassett had made his first U23 canoe slalom national team earlier in the year, but with World Cups and the World Championships cancelled, he made the most of his time at home and never lost focus.
“Going forward I’ll be just sticking with the process. I feel I’ve made improvements and been able to make the most of being at home all year. Just staying focused on my objectives and seeing the small progressions towards that has been rewarding. So, for now I’ll stay focused on the big goals, making the Senior team and 2024, my small objectives and just enjoying the process.”
While the 2020 Senior and U23 team paddlers dominated the medal ranks, some exciting up and coming talent charged down the rapids as well with 13-year old Codie Davidson (Penrith Valley Canoeing) taking home a medal in the open women’s K1 and finishing fourth in the C1.
In the open men’s events, 11-year old Sevan Billaut also put in some strong racing and is following the footsteps of his dad Julien Billaut, who works as National Senior Slalom Coach for Paddle Australia and is a former French representative paddler and three-time canoe slalom World Champion.
Growing up around a fine selection of the world’s best canoe slalom paddlers, Sevan Billaut enjoys training together with champion and Olympic paddler Richard Fox, who also contested the State Champs and showed some of the youngsters how it’s done by finishing in the top ten in the men’s K1.
Penrith’s whitewater paddlers will be back in force for the annual Santa Claus racing on 20 December 2020. And in the hope that COVID-19 will permit a national competition season, paddlers continue to train for the Paddle Australia Canoe Slalom Age Championships (15-17 Jan 2021, Eildon, VIC) and the Paddle Australia Canoe Slalom Australian Open (12-14 Feb 2021) currently scheduled for early next year with further details yet to be confirmed.
Wondering how some of our Australian Paddle Team athletes got involved in the sport?
Australian Paddle Team Canoe Slalom Squad athletes Steven Lowther, Brodie Crawford and Ben Pope tell us how they got into canoe slalom, who/what inspired them and together with Olympians Ian Borrows and Lucien Delfour they share their advice to our up and coming paddlers.