Team Behind The Team: Dupras and Fabris guiding next generation of slalom paddlers

A team of 17 young paddlers have departed Australian shores to represent the green and gold at the ICF Junior and Under 23 Canoe Slalom World Championships in Krakow, Poland this month.

Performance Pathways Lead for Canoe Slalom, Ros Lawrence, will lead the team in Poland, alongside Paddle Australia’s two Canoe Slalom Performance Pathways Program Coaches Titouan Dupras and Christian Fabris.

It’s the largest Australian Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom team for many years, which Dupras says is a direct reflection of the recent investment into the Canoe Slalom Pathways Program.

“The pathways program has really evolved in the past year. I started [in the role] in October 2021, after COVID-19 when there was not much activity… and we really wanted to start looking at the talent for the future. 

“There’s now 17 athletes in the team, compared to 9 last year, so it’s a big step,” Dupras said.

Fabris said it’s fantastic to see such a large team representing Australia in Europe, and it’s only the tip of the iceberg for the depth coming through the slalom pathways at the moment.

“It’s incredible to see so many emerging athletes coming through the program and there are another 40 other young paddlers on the water that are the next generation that will be coming through, so it’s a really exciting time to be here,” he said.

“This year we have one of the largest Junior and U23 teams going to Krakow that we’ve had in quite a long time, so it’s great to see a full field of U23 and Junior paddlers in both the men’s and women’s classes.

“And to know it’s not just those athletes in the team, but there are others biting at their heels to be there too.”

Both Dupras and Fabris know what it’s like to advance through canoe slalom pathways, as both were elite athletes before turning their hand to coaching.

Dupras was a member of the French Canoe Slalom national team when he joined the International Canoe Federation (ICF) coaching program in 2015 and stepped into a coaching internship with the French international federation in 2018. He worked with both the Canadian Canoe Slalom team and Moroccan team before joining the Australia Canoe Slalom coaching staff in 2021.

The Canoe Slalom pathways program grew again in November 2022 when Fabris joined the team following his career as an athlete, which saw him represent Australia on nine occasions, win three Australian National Championships and claim gold at the 2014 World Cup in the C1 Teams event. Fabris pursued his coaching career in 2017 at the Melbourne Canoe Club, and became involved in coaching Australian development squads, before assuming the role of Performance Pathways Program Coach last year.

Knowing what it takes to compete at the highest level, Dupras says his coaching philosophy centres around the holistic development of athletes, and focuses on the journey, as opposed to just the end result.

“What is changing in my area is putting the athletes in the centre and not just being driven only by performance without taking care of everything that’s going around them,” he said.

“A lot of our athletes won’t be ‘professional’ athletes so they have to build a life outside of the sport. For me, winning well is developing the athletes with a holistic view of their journey as an athlete but also as a person outside of the sport.

“Of course performance is important, but the performance is at the end of the journey. I am really focused on bringing these athletes into the journey, for them to really trust me and then performing at the end of it,” Durpas said.

Fabris agreed that the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) ‘Win Well’ strategy supports his personal coaching approach.

“The winning well framework is athletes knowing that it’s a part of their lives, but isn’t their whole lives,” he said.

“They come in, they push themselves to paddle really well and improve, but they’re flourishing while they’re doing it. It’s not a chore or a burden for them to be pushing for those performances. I want to see them busting their guts out there on the flat water, but finishing with a smile on their faces, that’s what it’s all about for me.”

The Australian Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships team has a mix of youth and experience, with a variety of performance goals across the team. The team features 2022 Men’s C1 Junior World Champion Mark Crosbee stepping into the U23 ranks, as well as U23 Women’s K1 and C1 paddler Georgie O’Callaghan and U23 Men’s K1 padder Seb Montalto who all made their Senior World Cup debuts in Ljubljana-Tacen, Slovenia in June. They will be joined in Poland by a number of athletes who are on their first Australian international tour.

“I think one of the most exciting things since they combined the Junior and U23 World Championships together is that there is a really big range of goals for our athletes,” Fabris said.

“Last year we had a junior world champion on the team [Crosbee] and he is in the U23 category this year now and has high performance expectations. At the other end of the spectrum we have athletes on their very first junior teams tour and they might be 15 or 16 years old, and will be looking to have a great experience and to know what to expect when they return to the Junior and U23 World Champions in years to come.”

The current Canoe Slalom Development teams have the opportunity to train alongside the Australian National Team, which features the likes of Olympic and World Champion Jessica Fox, and dual Olympian Lucien Delfour. And for those developing athletes who are not based at the National Training Centre in Penrith, the growing Pathways program means they have the resources to support clubs and states to help develop their athletes to advance into the official programs. 

“When I was in the pathways sphere, we didn’t have this kind of link to the senior team, where as now all these athletes in the pathways space have the opportunity to train shoulder to shoulder with the national team, and see all the steps in the pathway to what it looks like which is exciting,” Fabris said.

“I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve with the pathway program because it’s evolved so much,” Duras added. “It’s been a year and half I’ve been in this role and I started pretty much on my own on the pathways space, and now we have another coach, a strength and conditioning coach, and a sports scientist which is helping us to drive our program better.

“There’s a lot of resources in this program to be successful, so for me I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve with this, especially with the Brisbane Olympics, it’s already in our minds and we’re creating a team dynamic that will be of benefit for the future.”

The 2023 ICF Junior and Under 23 World Championships in Krakow, Poland run 15 – 20 August 2023.

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