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Juniors ready to rock in Russia

The national Under-18 Junior Kayaking squad is gearing up the highlight of its year at this weekend’s Junior Sprint World Championships in Moscow, Russia. The squad arrived on Sunday and have spent the week touching up final preparations for the regatta, which starts Friday and runs to Sunday.

The Junior World Championships include the 1000m and 500m distances only, and South Africa has athletes entered in the K1, K2 and K4 categories. All the heats take place  Friday, with the 1000m distances in the morning followed by the 500m races in the afternoon.

The winner of each heat progresses directly to the Finals, while positions two to seven advance to the semi-final round. Saturday sees the 1000m semi-finals in the morning, and the 1000m finals taking place in the afternoon, while the same schedule takes place on Sunday for the 500m distance.

The squad is made up of six girls and seven boys, along with coach Atilla Adrovicz, team manager Mike Chiazzari and assistant manager Debby Bird. The athletes have had a solid build-up over their school holidays in June, where they attened a training camp at Nagle Dam alongside the senior sprint squad. Morning and afternoon sessions at the camp will have conditioned them well for the rigours of international competition, and the country will be hoping they can mix this with the necessary mental strength and translate all the hard work into A-Finals qualifications or even medal performances.

Junior SA K1 1000m champion Martin van den Bergh has chosen to focus on the team boats for the Championships, and he will be partnered by Stu MacLaren in the K2 1000m and 500m races. Chrisjan Coetzee will step up as the sole K1 competitor across both distances. The boy’s K4 has had some boat problems during the week, but is not ready to launch their attack on the regatta.

Amongst the girls, the Western Cape’s Melanie van Niekerk will carry the K1 hopes in both the 1000m and the 500m. Still U16, van Niekerk has already established herself as the country’s premier junior female athlete, and with a further two years in the U18 age group, she will have nothing to lose this weekend.

The K2 partnership of Esti van Tonder and Kerry Segal will represent the country in the K2 category, while there is also a K4 boat entered for the 500m race, made up of Lindsey Davis, Jenna Ward, Brittany Peterson and van Niekerk.

A lengthy flight to Moscow via Egypt meant the 16-strong team were very relieved to arrive at their hotel on Sunday, and the group has spent the week sorting out their accreditation, doing final boat checks and fitting in the mandatory shopping and sight-seeing trips. The hotel is a 20 minute drive from the race venue, and a bus runs every hour for convenient transport.

The European countries lead the way in international sprint kayaking, but South Africa has produced it’s fair share of talent over the years, and the World Championships will be a good marker for the sport’s future stars. With the build-up all but over, the team is now eager for proceedings to get underway. Racing starts each day at 9am