Road to Tokyo Goes via Auckland for Australia's Men's Canoe Slalom
Six months out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, all eyes will be on the Aussie men’s canoe slalom events this weekend with the selection battle kicking off at the 2020 Oceania Canoe Slalom Championships in Auckland (1-3 February 2020). The Oceania Champs will be the first of two selection events to determine the best paddlers to represent Australia in Tokyo as well as at the 2020 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup series and the U23 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.
The Oceania Championships also double up as an Olympic qualification event with the men’s C1 the only Olympic quota to be decided in Auckland as no Oceania nation was successful at the 2019 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships. Australia, New Zealand and Cook Islands will contest for the quota and on paper Australia looks to have the edge, but New Zealand will have the home course advantage.
A large contingent of Paddle Australia’s canoe slalom paddlers are contesting the event at Vector Wero Whitewater Park across all age groups as the event also counts towards Australian selection for the 2020 U23 team.
Australia’s canoe slalom paddlers already secured the maximum quota spots per country for the Tokyo 2020 men’s K1 (K1M) and women’s C1 (C1W) and K1(K1W) events at the 2019 World Championships and will be looking to add a quota in the men’s C1 event this weekend.
National selection trials, which include the Oceania Championships as well as the 2020 Canoe Slalom Australian Open (21-23 February 2020), will then confirm who will be nominated to the Australian Olympic Committee for selection.
Internal team selection rivalry will be particularly intense in the men's K1 – where both New Zealand and Australia have qualified boat spots for Tokyo but the men's C1 is wide open with a continental qualification still up for grabs between paddlers from Australia, New Zealand and the Cook Islands. Each of these National Federations have been able to nominate up to three athletes to contest for the quota.
For Australia, last year’s world championships C1 athletes Daniel Watkins (TAS), Ian Borrows (NSW) and Tristan Carter (VIC) have been nominated to earn the Continental Olympic quota in men’s canoe.
Ten Senior and U23 paddlers will be representing Australia in the men’s C1 and with the event also counting towards Olympic and national team selection, the pressure will be on to not only secure the quota spot but also put in a strong performance to gain valuable selection points.
Tasmanian and 2019 national team paddler Daniel Watkins took home the national title at the 2020 Paddle Australia Canoe Slalom nationals at Penrith Whitewater Stadium a couple of weeks ago (10-12 January 2020) and will be looking to back it up in Auckland.
“The men’s C1 is super competitive at the moment and I was really happy to have been fast enough to get the win at nationals. The weekend gave me confidence in my form going into Olympic selection and I hope I can carry this form and win the first selection race to take the pressure off the rest of the selection,” Watkins said.
Rio Olympian in the men’s C1 Ian Borrows (NSW) as well as Victoria’s national team paddler Tristan Carter will also be aiming for the top to secure Australia the quota and to put themselves forward for selection.
Ethan Hodson (NSW) and U23 paddler Steven Lowther (WA) finished second and third respectively at nationals and will keep the pressure on in Auckland as will nationals's fourth placed Brodie Crawford (WA).
Selection will also be the main focus in the men’s K1 event. Rio Olympian Lucien Delfour secured Australia the men’s K1 quota spot at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in September last year, but names on seats will only be decided following the final national selection trials at the end of February.
After winning his second national title in Penrith a couple of weeks ago, Delfour will aim to put in another strong performance in Auckland. He will be pushed for the top spot by Daniel Watkins who is contesting both the men’s C1 and K1 events as well as Tim Anderson (NSW), who made his first world championships semi-final last year and was the second highest ranked Australian at nationals, followed by Western Australian Ben Pope.
Lucien Delfour - Photo Jaime Troughton Dscribe Media
While the pressure is on for Australia’s men’s kayak and canoe paddlers as well as athletes vying for U23 selection, Paddle Australia’s dual Olympic medallist and most successful canoe slalom paddler of all time, Jessica Fox, has already secured her Tokyo 2020 ticket and is the only Paddle Australia athlete who has already been selected on to the Tokyo 2020 Australian Olympic team.
Fox, who won the double at the Paddle Australia Canoe Slalom Championships a couple of weeks ago, will use the Oceania Champs as part of her Tokyo 2020 preparation, where she will be able to go for double gold in the women’s K1 and C1.
She will be competing at Vector Wero for the fourth time and will be contesting both the women’s K1 and C1. She will be up against a strong international field, including her long-time rival, New Zealand’s triple Olympian Luuka Jones, with the pair sharing podiums in some big events in recent years. At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Jones won silver in the women’s K1, while Fox finished third. At the 2018 World Champs Fox took second place and Jones third.
"It's great to have such awesome competition close to home – I've known Luuka for years now and she's one of the strongest paddlers in the world and on her home course, she'll be hard to beat. I think back on Rio and how special it was to share the podium with her and to have New Zealand and Australia side by side, like a sisterhood in a way. It was nice to have the Southern Hemisphere represented when it's such a European-centred sport and the growth of the sport in the Southern Hemisphere is fantastic,” Fox said, who starts the Olympic season as world number one in both the women’s K1 and C1.
Other women who will compete at the Oceania Canoe Slalom Championships and have already qualified for Tokyo Olympics, include Jane Nicholas (Cook Islands) and Martina Wegman, (Netherlands) in K1W.
Jessica Fox - Photo Jaime Troughton Dscribe Media
Australia is represented in both the women’s K1 and C1 events with a strong contingent of paddlers, including last year’s national team paddlers Noemie Fox (NSW), Kate Eckhardt (TAS), Georgina Collin (WA) and Demelza Wall (TAS). Up and coming junor paddler Sophie Wilson (NSW), who made her first senior final in the K1 at nationals, will also be contesting both events.
Entry is free for spectators across all three days of the event, with the championships starting at 9 am local time (AEDT +2 hrs) on Saturday, 1 February 2020.