The 15-strong South African sprint kayaking team begins one of its most important seasons of international racing tomorrow, at the season-opening ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup in Vichy, France.
Following the outstanding racing at the South African Sprint Championships last month, the national sprint squad has spent the past few weeks putting the finishing touches on months of training, and will be hoping to lay down a good early marker for the rest of the season.
Leading the assault are SASCOC Opex Squad members Bridgitte Hartley, Shaun Rubenstein and Mike Arthur. All three are seasoned international sprinters with good chances of winning World Cup medals. Hartley, who has spent the bulk of her training time in Hungary under the tutelage of former national coach Nandor Almasi, will compete in all three K1 distances ÔÇô 1000m, 500m and 200m. She will be paying particular attention to the Olympic women’s 500m and new 200m distances.
After the men’s 2012 Olympic distances were announced as the 1000m and new 200m at last year’s World Championships, ace national star Rubenstein has had to make the biggest adjustment in the team. A former K1 500m World Cup medalist, Rubenstein had to redefine his training schedule after deciding to focus on his K2 partnership with Mike Arthur, thereby foregoing his ambitions in the K1 1000m. The pair raced to a 200m silver medal at last year’s Szeged World Cup, and with the added conditioning since then will be striving for more in the 500m and 200m in Vichy.
ÔÇ£We only start racing on Saturday afternoon but from then the racing schedule gets really tough for Shaun and I,ÔÇØ said Arthur from the team’s base. ÔÇ£If all goes to plan we’ll be racing our K2 200 and 500 just over an hour apart on Sunday afternoon. We have improved a lot as individuals and as a combination since last year, and are really looking forward to starting off our season with some good performances.ÔÇØ
National K1 1000m champion Nick Stubbs is another hoping to convert his outstanding recent form into solid international K1 placings. Also entered for the K1 1000m event is Len Jenkins, who along with the rest of Residential Sprint Squad is enjoying a new lease on life as a professional paddler thanks to the infrastructure put in place by CSA with the assistance of SASCOC and the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund. The squad has also been able to draw on a wide range of expertise, with five different coaches, high performance co-ordinator, physiotherapist and human kinetics expert all contributing to unprecedented levels of individual attention and preparation.
The shorter, faster 200m events may play nicely into the hands of Jen Hodson, who has made a strong return to sprinting following a break from paddling after the Beijing Olympic Games where she made two A-Finals. Her K1 performances in the 500m and 200m will be watched with high interest back home as she lines herself up for another shot at Olympic glory.
Stalwart C1 paddler Calvin Mokoto will again be South Africa’s sole competitor in the Canoe events. Still only 21 years old, Mokoto’s Olympic experience will play a big role in achieving his weekend ambitions.
A year out from the London 2012 Olympic Games, Canoeing South Africa has opted to send a large squad of paddlers to the first two World Cups, although each individual had to be capable of reaching a B-Final. This allows a number of the country’s young athletes to gain valuable international experience, exposing them first hand to the levels required to succeed in this cut-throat discipline.
Cam Schoeman and Stu Waterworth’s K2 partnership has A-Final World Cup experience, so the pair will be hoping for more of that in the 1000m and 500m events. Jovial Eastern Cape brothers Ryan and Greg Louw’s explosive training will be well tested in the K2 200m, where the pair will be able to measure themselves against Rubenstein and Arthur.
The new men’s K4 1000m combination of Chrisjan Coetzee, Gavin White, Fouche van Tonder and PW Basson will be out to absorb as much as they can from their first World Cup, with Coetzee and Van Tonder are also hoping to reach a final in the K1 200m.
The team arrived to challenging weather conditions with temperatures consistently in the single figures. ÔÇ£Our arrival coincided with a substantial cold front that has created strong winds and icy conditions for the athletes,ÔÇØ said team physio Julia Thomas. ÔÇ£There has even been a little snow falling in the outlying areas of the city, although the forecast for the weekend is more favourable with temperatures expected to rise into the teens and the current headwind expected to switch to a moderate tailwind for the competition days.ÔÇØ
Activities get under way on Friday morning with men’s and women’s 1000m and women’s K1 500m heats and semi-finals. Saturday morning is final time for the 1000m events and the women’s K1 500m, with all remaining 500m heats and semis in the afternoon. The third and final day hosts the 200m heats and semis in the morning, with the 200m and 500m Finals wrapping up the regatta in the afternoon. ÔÇô Marc Cloete