Marathon Worlds (From Back home)

Unfortunately I was not able to make it out to the Worlds held in Crestuma, Portugal. By all accounts it sounds like I missed a treat and certainly missed some great performances by some of our athletes. Maybe next year I will take the coaching job if it is offered again!

From back home, having not seen the races first hand it is only really possible to comment on the results and their merits but without seeing how the races panned out it is not always the most informed method of reporting a race. Never mind though, there is still plenty to talk about.

First off were the Junior events, traditionally a strong area for GB with several World Champions in the relatively short history of the event.

Dean Terry and Mark Childerstone lined up for GB, my money was on Mark to bring home the best result but it was not to be, capsizing on the first lap but he did manage to salvage something from his weekend by having the strength of mind to complete the race in 12th place some 4 mins off the pace. Sympathies are offered to Mark who had looked so good in the build up to this, but we have seen many times how the big events can unsettle even the best. Ultimately it was Dean Terry who came home with a solid 3rd place earning him a bronze medal at the end of what has been a pretty good year all round from him. Both of these boys will now move up to senior racing. Whether they get sucked into the abyss of the Performance Programme never to be seen again in marathon racing remains to be seen.

In the Junior womens races Jenny Illidge has been our top performer for most of the year, only beaten by Katie Williams at the final assessment event. It was no real surprise that it was Jenny who came out with the best result of the two, 5th place just 2mins down on the winners. Katie was 10th only one more minute behind. Both girls can be justifiably pleased with what they achieved and with improvements very possible from both in the near future they can have lots to look forward to. Will someone in Runcorn please sort out Jenny's bent arms!

In the junior K2 events the men fielded two boats, Childerstone/Terry who had a real medal chance and Simmons/Welch. Again disaster struck for Childerstone who took a second swim in as many days, only today it led to retirement from the race. This is not only disappointing for him but for us as spectators and pundits, there is always an underlying feeling in sport that you make your own luck, from this weekend it seems that Mark is either very unlucky or can't quite keep a calm head at the crucial points. Having trained with him over the past few weeks I hope it is the former, only time will tell! The other boys though came up trumps 7th place and only 1-30 behind the leaders is probably better than most would have expected so well done to Simmons/Welch.

Junior women's K2 of Illedge/Swallow finished 11th some 6 mins off the pace which is not bad but shows we have some way to go in this class before we are competing for the top places.

The U23 classes were next and I struggle not only with the whole concept of U23 being separated out but especially with it being given official World Championship status. If it is going to be given the same status as the senior or junior events then it can't be held on the same weekend as a senior competition otherwise any top quality U23s will be fighting for senior medals while the ones who aren't quite there yet will be racing U23. Ultimately the winner of the U23 can't realistically claim to be world champion at all. (Several medals in the senior races were won by U23 athletes, notably our own Ben Brown and Lani Belcher who is still only 20 (I think)). There are those who point out that lots of the medal winners are in, or close to, their 30s which is true but they forget to mention that those same people were also winning medals in their early 20s.

The medal winners in the U23 events are simply the fastest U23 who didn't go in the senior race. Perhaps the race would be better given the same status as the Masters events.

In the Men's event Tom Daniels was offered the chance to race U23 after some really good domestic performances that left him only just shy of a senior K1 place. This was just reward for him and he came home with a bronze medal. He raced the hard way having to come from behind in the early stages and if he continues improving as he has done he will be a serious contender for senior K1 next year.

I was disappointed that Louisa Sawyers ended up racing U23 instead of senior, whether it was her decision or was suggested by coaches or management I don't know. Having qualified by rights to contest the senior event it just looks like lack of confidence or loss of bottle when you willingly step down a level. This however does not detract from her performance and result which earned her a silver medal. I hope she steps up to the mark next year and wins a medal in the senior race which she is physically very capable of doing.

The senior racing seemed to be right back up to top quality again this year after the past couple of years when some spectators have been suggesting a drop in standards.

In the women's event I was pretty certain Lani Belcher would return victorious, her training was going very well and she was in the right mood for a fight. On the day however it was not to be, finishing 3rd behind the Hungarian and Portuguese it looked on paper a disappointing result. Having spoken to some people in the know though it seems she did everything right and took the lead at the right time only to be overhauled by the other two girls. If you get it all right and still get beaten then you just have to admit the others were better on the day which can be a hard pill to swallow, however when looking back on the race at least you know you did your best which softens things a little. I will still put my money on Lani next year; it can only be a matter of time.

Then came the men's K1. Ben Brown and John Sawyers had consistently been our best two paddlers over the recent past and deserved to be on the line. Eventually though it turned out very differently for the two of them. For John, it was not to be, he pulled out which will be a big knock to his confidence after putting so much into this race all year. He was very capable of at least a top 10 finish which would have been a great stepping stone to next season, he will have to take some time to regroup and try to build up again next year. Perhaps K2 would be an option where there is not only someone to rely on but also someone to perform for when the chips are down. There is no doubting the K1 races are tough on the brain!

Ben Brown however had a very different day. His second place was the result of the weekend, no doubt. In a race where he was dropped and caught up previously “uncatchable” athletes he can genuinely claim to be one of the very best. With the confidence he must take from here there is no doubt in my mind he will win this race several times in the future. If he does, I would like to be there to watch it next time. I wish I was still good enough to get to race K2 with him! Ben becomes only the 4th Senior Mens K1 world medalist that GB have produced and the first in Marathon racing in the last 10 years.

Finally the K2 races saw us without a women's K2 which is not great especially as we have so many funded athletes sitting around doing nothing at the tail end of the year. Surely we could get something back for the money!

In the men's race it was a sad day for Jon Simmons who had to pull out sick leaving his seat to Tom Daniels. After such a great season it must have been very tough on Jon to sit and watch. It is never easy to jump into a boat on the day of an event this size but Tom Daniels and Tim Pendle not only finished top 10 but were only just over 3 mins off the pace which is our best K2 result since Nathan Johnson and Danny Golder back in 2001.

Overall a great outing for the GB Team, congratulations to all and condolences to those who feel they underperformed.

It feels to me like we have the beginnings of a really strong group of marathon paddlers here; with a bit of communication and a bit less segregation we could all build on these results over the next few years, hopefully the momentum will continue over the winter and next season will see all these guys coming out fighting.

I wish I had been there to see it all! A great weekend for Nelo Kayaks with a vast majority of medals being won in their boats. If anyone wants one then drop me a line!

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