Gold & Bronze for Fox and Watkins at 2020 Australian Open Canoe Slalom
It was an exciting day for Australia’s Olympic canoe slalom paddlers at Penrith Whitewater Stadium with Tasmanian Daniel Watkins provisionally securing his spot in the C1 men for his first Games and also making his first Australian Open Canoe Slalom podium and taking home the bronze medal. Dual Olympic medallists Jessica Fox, who already secured her Tokyo 2020 ticket at the World Championships last year, wrapped up the first day of finals at the 2020 Australian Open Canoe Slalom with a gold medal in the women’s kayak.
Daniel Watkins, C1, Photo : Col Boyd
Tokyo 2020 Olympic dreams became reality for Daniel Watkins at the 2000 Sydney Olympic canoe slalom venue on Saturday after the 24-year old finished fifth in the morning’s semi-final and progressed through to the C1 final as the only Australian and securing the top spot on the overall Paddle Australia C1 selection rankings in the process.
With the 2020 Australian Open Canoe Slalom as part of the 2020 Sydney International Whitewater Festival doubling up as the final Olympic canoe slalom selection round, Watkins went into the weekend as the leader in the men’s C1 after winning the first two out of four selection relevant races at the 2020 Oceania Canoe Slalom Championships in Auckland at the start of February.
In Auckland, Watkins was also the one securing Australia the quota spot in the class and now will add his name to the seat.
But on Friday, he missed his chance to already lock it all in and instead threw the Olympic door wide open again after Victorian Tristan Carter overtook him in the heats and with Rio Olympian Ian Borrows and Brodie Crawford progressing through to Saturday’s semi-final as well.
It was a nerve wrecking way to get there, but in the end Watkins was able to celebrate the top position on the selection ranking that will secure him the Tokyo 2020 C1 men spot with formalities expected to be finalised later next week and with Paddle Australia nomination to the Australia Olympic Committee and final selection still pending.
“I had a really quick semi-final run, I had one touch and it felt really good in places. I wasn’t really sure if it would stack up and be as quick as it was, but it held and I moved into the final as the only Aussie. So that gives me two overall wins, one at Oceania, one today and qualifies my spot for the Olympic Games,” Watkins said after the semi-final.
Progressing through to the final and racing on a high after locking in his spot, Watkins backed up his strong performance in the semi with a bronze medal in the world-class final a couple of hours later.
“There was a lot of relief and lots of emotions over the last hour leading into the final run, lots of distractions to get back on the water and get back on the course and the run was similar to the semifinal but without the pressure and I had a lot of fun,” Watkins said.
“It was the best one just going out there after having already confirmed the spot. I was able to let loose and focus, I actually almost relaxed and went a little bit easier which worked really well,” Watkins said finishing the final in a time of 98.20 after one gate touch and two seconds penalty.
“I went a little bit easier and used the water a lot better, I had a touch at the top and had quite a bit of time loss at the last gate but other than that I am really happy with the run. It is my first Senior podium at the Australian Open in C1, so I’m really happy with that,” Watkins added.
Slovenia’s Benjamin Savsek took home the win in men’s C1 with Matyas Lhota from Czech Republic coming second.
“This was quite a strong field, not as strong as the World Cup but there are plenty of the top 20 here. So it was really nice to see what kind of times they are lying down and how close I can get to them,” Watkins said about the caliber of the field.
Following the C1 men, the women’s kayakers were at the start line, with Paddle Australia’s most successful canoe slalom paddler of all time and world number one Jessica Fox, progressing through to the final with a second place in the semi-final behind Germany’s world number three Ricarda Funk.
In the semi-final, Funk put down a time of 95.14 with Fox almost five seconds behind following a two seconds penalty, but in the final the order was reversed.
Fox finished the day with a clean run and a time of 97.87, while Funk got two touches which saw her +1.97 seconds behind in second. France’s Camille Prigent finished third.
“I was happy to improve the sections I needed to from my semi-final. I had a solid run in the semis but Ricarda was extremely fast so I knew that I needed to really step up in the final and try to fix the errors I made in the semi. So I was super happy with my top, then I had a couple of little mistakes, but really managed to really hold it together. I was pretty tired at the finish, Ricarda had a few penalties and it was enough to take the win today which I’m stoked with and it was fantastic to have another good battle out on the water,” Fox said.
Fox already secured her Tokyo 2020 Olympic ticket in both the women’s K1 and C1 at the World Championships last year and was thrilled to have her first canoe slalom team mate to join her in Tokyo decided today.
“It was extremely nerve wrecking watching the C1 race, knowing that it was still wide open and any of the boys could take it out. I I still had to focus on my race but I was very much in the race watching them, cheering for them and ducking gates with them. Dan really stepped up to lock it in, and that is fantastic for him and an Olympic berth, a rookie on the team and I’m exciting for him to join the club,” Fox said.
K1 Women Podium - Funk, Fox, Prigent - Photo JGRImages
Tasmanian Kate Eckhardt was the only other Australian to make the world-class women’s K1 final and finished ninth, which sees her ranked as top U23 women’s kayak paddler.
“I was pretty happy to put down a solid semi-final run. I made a few mistakes in the final and picked up a penalty but happy to be out racing the final,” Eckhardt said.
“This should put me in the (U23) team and I’m really excited to be going to my last U23 championships. I have been the second Australian at all the selection races in K1 and that should put me in a good position for the World Cup team, which again is really exciting because I’ve missed out on that last year and it’s good to be back fighting for that and getting some reasonable results,” Eckhard said about the selection relevance of her racing with the Australian Open also doubling up as the final World Cup and U23 team selection event.
And about the Olympic selection of her fellow Tasmanian team mate Daniel Watkins she added, “I’m super happy for him. He has shown that he was the best paddler over this selection series and his performance has been awesome and I’m so happy for him to be representing Australia in Tokyo. It is always good to represent the “Little Island."
Both Jessica Fox and Kate Eckhardt will be back in action on Sunday in the women's C1 semi-finals.
On Sunday, another Olympic ticket will be up for grabs in the K1 men and the battle will be on between current leader and Rio Olympian Lucien Delfour and Friday’s top ranked Australian Tim Anderson. Anderson finished second in Friday’s heats, while Delfour finished eighth.
The 2020 Sydney International Whitwater Festival is the final round of Paddle Australia’s canoe slalom national selection trials to confirm, who will be nominated to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection for Tokyo 2020 in the men’s events. The weekend of racing will also decide the 2020 Paddle Australia canoe slalom teams, including World Cup, U23 and Junior teams, as well as Olympic reserves. Teams are expected to be announced at the end of February.
Sunday will also see the finals of the 2020 Paddle Australia Freestyle Championships.
See all results here: http://bit.ly/SIWF2020ResultsUpdated
Live Stream Finals - Rewatch: https://youtu.be/HFZtrEP0JwA
Head to www.facebook.com/auspaddleteam for interviews, updates and more.
RESULTS, Saturday, 22 February 2020
Men’s C1 Final
1- Benjamin SAVSEK - SLO 0 94.96 0.00
2- Matyas LHOTA - CZE 0 97.84 +2.88
3- Daniel WATKINS - AUS 2 98.20 +3.24
4- Marko MIRGORODSKY - SVK 0 98.31 +3.35
5- Roberto COLAZINGARI - ITA 0 98.70 +3.74
Women’s K1 Final
1- Jessica FOX- AUS 0 97.87 0.00
2- Ricarda FUNK - GER 4 99.84 +1.97
3- Camille PRIGENT - FRA 0 103.71 +5.84
4- Elena APEL - GER 2 105.44 +7.57
5- Eliska MINTALOVA - SVK 2 105.63 +7.76
9- Kate ECKHARDT - AUS 2 110.76 +12.89