Australia’s best paddlers descended on Penrith for the first day of racing at the Canoe Sprint Grand Prix 2 and Canoe Slalom Australian Open.
With this weekend’s events doubling as the selection trials for the Australian team that will travel overseas for the ICF World Cup season and 2023 World Championships, all paddlers across both disciplines were looking to start the weekend on the front foot.
TEAM BOATS OPEN CANOE SPRINT GRAND PRIX 2 IN TOP FORM
The opening day of GP2 at Sydney International Regatta Centre was highlighted by the K4 finals, with crews stacked with Olympic and World Championship medalists leading the charge.
The 2022 World Championship silver medal-winning women’s K4 500 team started the regatta in fine form, staking their selection claims in the first final of the day.
The team of Ella Beere (NSW), Aly Bull (QLD), Ally Clarke (QLD) and Yale Steinepreis (WA) took a commanding victory in near perfect conditions as they look to emulate last year’s performances in the season ahead.
“I think it always adds that little bit of pressure, people have their expectations based on last season,” said Bull. “We’ve tried a few different combos; all the girls at the NCE [National Centre of Excellence] are paddling really fast.
“This year is an Olympic qualification year, so our performance at Worlds truly counts to what the team will actually look like to go to Paris.
“We’re here to get a job done this season and then it starts again.”
Steinepreis said the experience gained from tough qualification races on the international circuit helped in today’s event which was a direct final.
“It was tough knowing that there was selection on that first race and not having a heat to warm into,” said Steinepreis. “But when we go into World Cups those first heats are just as hard so it was good practice.”
The men’s K4 500 final was taken out by the quartet of Jean and Pierre van der Westhuyzen (QLD), Tom Green (QLD) and Riley Fitzsimmons (NSW), who are racing their first season together.
The team powered out of the start gate through the opening half of the race and were able to maintain their pace through to the line, setting up their case for national team selection.
“I think we came out there with a purpose and we really just tried to hit it out at the start, get a good first 250m out there and then try to carry the race all the way through and I think we’re pretty happy with how we executed that,” said Pierre van der Westhuyzen. “For me to sit in the back there and have three guys in front of me that have gone to Olympics before and found success there is awesome.
“They’re just setting up a good platform for the whole group and guys like me and the other guys that are kind of new to the group really benefit from what they have to offer and the experience that they have.”
For Jean van der Westhuyzen, having the opportunity to watch younger brother Pierre excel has been a bonus in what is an important year for the team.
“I still kind of look at him as my little bro but he’s now pretty big and pretty strong and a really good asset to the team,” he said. “It’s been awesome to kind of watch him grow and make his own path and his own journey out of it.”
In a season where World Championship results will lead to quotas earned for Paris, Pierre knows every opportunity to perform must be taken.
“This year is going to be a big one because obviously we need to qualify boats for the Olympics in 2024,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on this year and to be a part of that team would be a good step in the right direction for 2024.”
In the women’s K2 500 final, Kailey Harlen (NSW) and Alyce Wood (QLD) edged out a pair of pairings from the K4 victors, with Aly Bull and Ella Beere in second ahead of Ally Clarke and Yale Steinepreis.
The men’s K2 200 final was taken out by Adam Holovics (VIC) and Noah Cameron (VIC).
In the men’s K1 200 multi-class, Dylan Littlehales (NSW) beat home Curtis McGrath (QLD) and Kiwi Scott Martlew, while in the women’s K1 multi-class Kathleen O’Kelly-Kennedy (WA) finished first ahead of Susan Seipel (QLD) and Amy Ralph (WA).
The 2023 PA Canoe Sprint GP2 regatta continues over the weekend. For schedule and results, click here.
CANOE SLALOM PADDLERS BRING THE HEAT ON FIRST DAY OF AUSTRALIAN OPEN
It was a great opening day of competition at the 2023 Canoe Slalom Australian Open, with the heats contested in both the kayak and canoe.
Despite heat at Penrith Whitewater Stadium, races aplenty entertained onlookers, and set up athletes for a great weekend of racing.
Australian paddler Noemie Fox (NSW) said it was great to have a race in her own backyard, and welcome back some of her international competition again.
“I have to say it is nice to have them come to us,” Fox said. “We’ll be spending quite a lot of time overseas, six months this year, so definitely making the most of any home time we can get.
“Making the most of having an open course as well because it was closed for a lot of flooding issues last year. So it’s just been nice to relax and go home, and see your dogs… it’s good,” she said.
Fox finished third in the women’s kayak heats, before going on to claim top spot in the women’s canoe.
“I think it’s always a good start to put down some good runs and know where you sit in comparison to some other international competitors which is why it’s been so great to have them here,” Fox said.
“Doubling up (kayak and canoe) in this heat is quite exhausting – we haven’t had a day this hot in what feels like forever – but it’s great to be racing again and have international competitors out here and have a full-on ICF race so it’s been really good,” she said.
In the men’s canoe heats, Tristan Carter (VIC) finished as the best-placed Australian paddler, just 30 seconds behind Irishman Liam Jegou.
“It was a difficult course which is good, it’s nice to have something like that for a change,” Carter said. “My game plan going into it was to keep your head together and go clean – the least mistakes win.
“That was my game plan; I’m very happy to have had the mental strength to deliver it so I’m quite happy with that.
“I’ve got a few of my good Irish friends over as well which I love training with and love racing with too,” he said.
Two-time Olympian Lucien Delfour was the fastest paddler in the men’s kayak heats.
The 2023 Canoe Slalom Australian Open continues tomorrow. For full results from today’s racing – click here