The South African sprint canoeing team are gathered in Poland, ready to make an impact at this weekend’s Sprint World Cup event on the artificial Lake Malta.
The nine-strong team is spearheaded by national champions Shaun Rubenstein and Bridgitte Hartley, and will be quietly hoping for some medal-winning performances.
After Canoeing South Africa decided not to send a team to the first World Cup in the Czech Republic, this will be the first international exposure of the year for most of the athletes.
Rubenstein, Hartley and fellow Olympian Carol Joyce are no strangers to this level of competition, but the rest of the team is based on youth, and many of them have limited experience on the big stage.
As part of the CSA High-Performance plan aimed at winning medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games, this regatta will mainly be used to test out the athletes’ mental aptitude, and team boat options.
CSA High Performance Co-ordinator Marcus Melck is determined, but keeping his feet on the ground for the moment. ‘We want to do the best we can while at the same time recognizing that a lot of our paddlers are coming out of non-specific preparation, so we have to be realistic. These are the first steps towards London 2012, and the year after an Olympic Games is normally one of experimentation, building combinations and looking at the options.’
Hartley, who was the only South African to make the trip to the first World Cup of the year earlier in the month, will be hoping for more success amongst some tough women competitors. Having won a gold and two bronze medals in Racice, she looks in good form and will be hoping all the training she’s been doing in Hungary translates through to good results in the competition. Hartley and Joyce will compete in all K1 races ÔÇô the 500m, 1000m and 5000m.
Rubenstein comes off the back of some hard studying and can now turn his attention to the physical realm.
He’ll be hoping to put the disappointment of missing out on the Beijing Olympic A-Finals behind him in his first international race since.
His local dominance was confirmed when he won all 10 events he entered at the SA Championships in April, but he will now need to step up to another level ÔÇô albeit one he has enjoyed success in before.
Nic Burden will compete alongside Rubenstein in the K1 500m, and together with Greg Louw, Len Jenkins and Nick Stubbs will race the K4 1000m.
Attentive eyes will also be on the young K2 pairing of Cam Schoeman and Stu Waterworth, who have chosen to focus on their combination for the 500m and 1000m races rather than on any K1 racing. Greg Louw will team up with Nick Stubbs for the K2 500m, while Rubenstein and Jenkins will be hoping their endurance and tactical nous will benefit them in the K1 5000m races.
The 500m and 1000m heats will take place on Friday 22 May, with semi-finals on Saturday morning. The 500m finals are on Saturday afternoon, with an overnight rest all the recovery the top paddlers will get before the 1000m finals on Sunday morning. The final longer distance 5000m races will be help on Sunday afternoon.