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World Champs Report

World Champs 2011.

In the pathetic absence of a report in Canoe Focus I have decided to write my own report of (the way I saw) the 2011 World Champs pan out. We, the average paddlers, actually rarely if ever, are privileged enough to see these guys either train or race (For example how many times have you seen Tim Brabants race/paddle in the flesh since becoming Olympic Champion?) and now it seems the High and Mighty in GB Canoeing can’t even be bothered to fill us in on what happened in the climax to their/our season. Either they are all (and there are plenty of them!) just too busy to take the 30 mins to do a write up or they actually don’t think it is important to tell us what is going on. Increasingly I feel it is the latter and the separation between the Elite system and the rest of us is becoming so distinct that we are no longer relevant to them and sooner or later they will become irrelevant to us. The “Olympic Legacy” in our sport is a question that will need looking at.
Anyway I will try to give you an outsider’s impartial view of what went on in Szeged back in August.


First lets have a list of who did what.


Mens


K1 200 Ed McKeever
K1 500 No Entry
K1 1000 Paul Wycherley
K1 5000m No Entry
K2 200 Schofield/Heath
K2 500 No Entry
K2 1000 Brabants/Farrell
K4 1000 No Entry
K1 200m Relay: Cox, Reeves, Daniels, Farrell

Women


K1 200 Jess Walker
K1 500 Rachael Cawthorne
K1 1000 Angela Hannah
K1 5000 Lani Belcher
K2 200 No Entry
K2 500 Belcher/ Mason
K2 1000 No Entry
K4 500 Edmonds/Walker/Cawthorne/Sawers
K1 200m Relay No Entry

Mens Canoe


C1 200 Richard Jeffries
C1 500 No Entry
C1 1000 No Entry
C1 5000 No Entry
C2 200 No Entry
C2 500 No Entry
C2 1000 No Entry
C4 1000 No Entry
C1 200m Relay: No Entry

Womens Canoe


C1 200 Sam Rippington
C2 500 No Entry

So probably the first thing to cover off is why do we have so few races covered? Only 13/29? Well it has been decided rightly or wrongly that we needed to specialise on Olympic distances. You could argue this both ways but personally I cant see why over half of our men’s team were left sitting on the sidelines when there were vacant events to fill, in terms of “going forward” it would seem like a great opportunity to give to the younger paddlers who are in the sport beyond 2012. That was not the policy though and it was “Olympic distances only”,


Actually that was only the official line, in reality Lani did the 5k, which was reasonable as she was already there and the race was after her main event plus she has a realistic medal chance. What was controversial though was Angela Hannah being taken out specifically to do the non-Olympic K1 1000m and three men being taken specifically to do the non-Olympic 200m relay. While others were told they were not being taken, as it would be a “drain on resources”.  It seemed rules were applied where it suited!


It was very apparent that the other large teams with funding all managed to enter athletes across the board. Some Olympic qualifying athletes were competing in as many as 2 non-Olympic events in addition to their Olympic distance. Also a quick look back through the year will show that a lot of the very successful athletes in this championship were racing non-Olympic distances all year. We have been one of the richest teams in the sport for many years now but still seem incapable of producing a structure that gives any strength in depth.

The biggest question to be asked was why did we not even enter a K4 in the Men’s 1000m? An Olympic distance and the ONLY chance we had to qualify a boat for 2012! Lack of talent….. not really, we had already had a 7th place back in 2009 and in theory we had tried boosting the talent in the boat by adding Tim Brabants during the season, we had also had another 2 years concentrated preparation on a boat that was stated to be our main aim for the qualification event! Lack of money and opportunity then?………. Not likely, hundreds of thousands have been thrown in the direction of this K4, the guys have had every training opportunity known to man with warm weather training and more back up staff than Barack Obama!


I am sure everyone will have an opinion on the causes but hey, I am writing the article so here goes. To get a K4 to work you need 4 committed guys and a coach who is in charge. From the outset this boat was doomed by internal friction and a coach that was continually undermined by those above and around him. Ultimately it was destined to fail. In the last couple of months of the 4-year cycle the boat was disbanded and the 4 younger guys were given the “opportunity” to race. A couple of mediocre performances later it was decided they were not going to be good enough to even get the chance to compete in Szeged, which would immediately and without contest reduce our potential Olympic squad from 7 to a maximum of 3. Money well spent?


So race by race here is what happened (as I saw it)

K1 200 Ed McKeever: 2nd


Ed has consistently performed over the past 2 years in an event where even small errors can have drastic consequences on results. He is one of the most solid performers out there and dictated his early rounds as he always does. In the final he inevitably met the other main contender Siemionowski from Poland who had looked equally good in his early rounds. Sadly it was Siemionowski who took the win with Ed in 2nd place. No chinks in Ed’s performance, it was just not to be on the day. Confidence is key in this event and Ed will have to hold on to his belief that he is the fastest man in the world despite this setback. I for one am confident he will come out of this fighting and as fine as the margins are, I would happily put money on a medal from Ed next year at the big one. With luck that medal will be Gold.
It is testament to Ed that some see the silver medal as a disappointment and shows how much faith, not only the GB supporters, but also many other people in the sport have in him.

K2 200 Schofield/Heath: 2nd


 Another silver medal and a step up from the bronze last year. The K2 200 is unbelievably fast and closely contested right from the outset in the heats. Some extremely good crews, (notably the Spanish silver medallists from last year) did not make the final. However Schofield/Heath stand out in every round as being clearly a step ahead of the masses. They are, I think, the fastest boat on the water but just lose out to the French who seem able to maintain their top speed for longer. I am sure Alex Nikonorov will see what needs to be done and these two will be working hard over the Winter on whatever it takes to stake a claim for top spot in 2012.

K1 200m Relay: Christian Reeves, Andy Daniels, Ben Farrell, Ed Cox: 9th


I am undecided with this event, it is kind of a kayak racing meets “It’s a knockout”. All it is missing is the background chuckle from Eddie Waring and Stewart Hall! The handovers are dodgy at best and it is not pretty watching quality paddlers struggling to go fast over choppy water. However just like “It’s a knockout” it makes compelling viewing and our guys made a great job of it. 9th place in the final probably does not show how good some of the individual performances actually were. It seems we are pretty good at this new distance!

K1 1000 Paul Wycherley: 14th


What can I say, after a hideous season of frustration Paul was finally selected for the 1000m following a race off with Tim just a few weeks before the big event. Paul is not yet at the standard of Tim at his best and this race off was probably the biggest race of Paul’s year. To get up for that and then back up to full strength for the Worlds was asking a lot and with luck turning against him in the form of a heavily stacked semi-final Paul missed out on both a place in the final and an Olympic slot. The big question will be whether Tim should have done this event and no one will ever know if the result would have been different, however the selectors and management cornered themselves into this last minute decision process by not allowing Paul to race K1 through the season and having to stipulate the race off as the final trial. My feeling is that if Paul had been given the freedom to compete throughout he season, as he and Ian Wynne had wanted, then not only would the selectors have known how good his final performance was likely to be, and made their decisions accordingly, but the K4 would probably also have been a much happier/more successful crew. This series of events is definitely one that the management need to answer questions on!

K2 1000: Brabants/Farrell: 15th


The chain of events described above led to the last minute scramble to cobble together a K2 with Brabants as the main player. After a couple of sessions it was Brabants who decided he would paddle with Farrell ahead of any of the other guys queuing up for the opportunity. Though time clearly dictated a rapid decision it is not unreasonable for some of the other K2s around and some of the other 1000m paddlers to be a little upset at the fact that this crew never actually raced anybody or even time trialled to gain its selection. That is another discussion that needs to be had, but the facts are that we put together an untried K2 for the biggest event of the 4 year cycle with only 3 weeks together in a boat and with no evidence that they were any better than any other crew.
There is no doubting both Tim and Bens individual quality though and there was talk of qualification. Top 6 requirement made the K2s the toughest events to qualify in and despite looking like a decent boat in their semi final and their B final Tim and Ben failed to secure the all-important Olympic slot. Given more time this boat did look like it had the potential to mix it with the big guns but three weeks to prepare is just not enough at this level.

K4 1000: NO ENTRY!


Three athletes watching from the stands and one taking part in the non-Olympic 200m relay saw this one and only opportunity to qualify squandered. Perhaps they would not have been fast enough to qualify, but then as it turned out nor were any of our other 1000m entries so who is to judge?
You are way more likely to qualify a boat if you actually enter one…FACT!

Womens K1 200m Jess Walker: 7th


 Having already qualified her Olympic spot in the K4 the 200m was a nice bonus for Jess. She is very highly rated by some in GB canoeing and there was talk of a medal opportunity. On the day though she was lucky to make the final after a comedy fail by Nicole Reinhardt in the semi-finals saw Jess take the last qualification spot for the final. Lane 9 was not the lane of choice all weekend and Jess never really mixed it with the main contenders. Nevertheless the margins are small and Jess is there or thereabouts. Added to her awesome K4 performance she should be pleased with a very solid regatta.

K1 500: Rachael Cawthorne: 12th


After a season of illness and injury none of us expected to see Rachael at her best but it is hard to be realistic sometimes and watching her come down in the B-Final and outside a qualification spot was not a nice experience for us let alone for Rachael. Her K1 has been so reliable for the past few years we have grown to expect so much and I have no doubt she will be back to form next year. It is always hard to stomach a rough regatta at this level but hopefully the k4 result will keep her chin up and in the mood for attacking next year. Perhaps training the K4 took some coordination away from her K1 or maybe just concentrating on two events proved too much following her lack of training time this season. Decisions on what to target next season will not be easy!
We will of course qualify a women’s K1 500 place by default being the host nation.

K1 1000m. Angela Hannah: 7th


Angela has made unbelievable progress in this sport in a very short time; a great year of K2 with Lani Belcher saw medals at World Cup level. However the K2 was dismantled and Angela was given the consolation prize of a run down the non-Olympic 1000m, (a chance many of our men’s team would loved to have had!) A very credible effort in the final saw Angela take 7th place in a final that contained no less than 4 Hungarians (racing for four different countries), some testament to how they can turn out quality women!

K2 500: Lani Belcher/Hayleigh Mason: 14th


Another crew put together toward the end of the season. Hayleigh was ousted from the K4 by Rachael Cawthorne and would have found herself without an Olympic event had she not in turn ousted Angela Hannah from the K2.
The crew did not look as sharp in the early rounds as we would have hoped and faded towards the end of their races.
5th in the B Final was the ultimate outcome, a pretty disappointing run after such a good season from the girls, maybe more time was needed or maybe it just wasn’t their day, either way it will be down to the coaches to choose a K2 for next years vital qualification event in May.

K1 5000m: Lani Belcher: 2nd


With her marathon background Lani stood out as one of, if not the only, girl who knew what she was doing in a chaotic scramble that was the women’s 5k. She never put a foot wrong and was never outside the front three. After last years mishap with the Belorus athlete she was careful on the last turn to avoid a similar incident and came out in a clear second place. It is good to see the 5ks making a return (from my biased point of view) and good to see we are still up at the top end. It is a shame we did not put an entry in the men’s event!

K4 500m: Abi Edmonds, Jess Walker, Rachael Cawthorne, Louisa Sawers: 4th 

 
Having been around canoeing for so long I still find it hard to believe we are actually competing at this level in this event. The girls looked every bit as good as the big names and even pipped the favoured German crew to advance direct to the final from their heat.
In the final it was team GB that actually took the race to the others and for a moment it really looked like they were in the running for a win. Sadly they were to finish just outside the medals, the worst position to stomach especially after being out in front for so long. After this performance, which for me was the highlight of the event, you have to believe that a medal is a distinct possibility in 2012 and in fact even a gold is not out of reach. To say this was exciting is an understatement. Our girls have arrived on the World Stage and everyone has taken note. The places are booked for 2012 and now the fight to stay in the crew will begin. We are in a very good position with three girls sat outside the boat all of whom would have a claim to be included, it is a luxury position to be in and credit has to go to Miklos Simon for his efforts.

C1 200: Richard Jeffries: 18th


Another relative newcomer Richard has already achieved more than many would ever have thought possible.  He would probably have been a little disappointed with his 9th place in the B Final but he looks strong and will possibly be the one who takes up our host nation entry in the C1 next year.

Womens C1 200: Sam Rippington 12th


To be honest I struggle with this event. It is not yet developed enough to compete with credibility at this level and needs a couple more years to mature in the World Cup Circuit. It has come a long way already since the debacle of the last years Worlds but still the strength in depth is not quite there with a 5 second spread in the A final. It seems almost cruel to parade some of these athletes down the course in front of one of the most knowledgeable and definitely the largest crowd of the canoeing world. Having said that all the athletes down to about 7th place in the B Final now actually look pretty good. Sam gave a good account of herself, she was always in the race and 12th place was a good result. She is not far off the tail end of Final A.

 

So what do we know?


 The management are selling the results as a big leap forward. “This time 4 years ago we had qualified just one athlete now we are looking at 10.” That sounds impressive until it is qualified by saying that 3 of those places were gifted to us by virtue of being the host nation, 3 were from events that didn’t exist this time 4 years ago and the remaining 4 places all came from just the one boat, the women’s k4. I have no intention of putting a damper on things but this time last year we won 4 “Olympic” medals, this year we have only 2. There are many ways to look at statistics but continually looking at them in a positive light is counterproductive bordering on delusional. In the past 10 years we have had finalists in ALL the Olympic distances in Kayaks, yet now with all the money, time and backup we could possibly want we are struggling for A Final places in all but a few events. I refuse to be sold that as a success. Now it seems there is even dissent in the Women’s team despite the best results ever this year and qualifying 4 slots for 2012.


As I see it the management need to get a grip, do their job, stop undermining the coaches and let us as the outsiders reap the benefits of the millions of pounds spent on our teams by seeing some good results in 2012. This season shows we have the quality there to produce the results if the people who are doing the jobs are left alone to do them well. If they aren’t, those of you who were lucky enough to get tickets for 2012 will be watching 8 strangers coming down the Eton course and that is not what you were supposed to spend all that money on!!

The athletes have to live or die by their performances, the coaches it seems are under constant scrutiny and pressure to produce, yet the upper tiers seem immune to consequences of poor performance and failure. Life it seems is not always sporting!


I apologise for not producing an upbeat report but someone has to counter the constant flow of misguided positivity that flows from the performance programme in order to justify its existence. I believe our athletes are the best they have ever been and with good management will produce the best set of results we have ever had at an Olympic Games in 2012. What I fear is that the upper tier is more concerned with self-preservation than it is with result production.
Where do we go to from here?


With the boats that have already qualified and the host nation spots kindly donated to us, we are left to qualify a men’s K2 1000, Women’s K2 500 and several events in the Canoe classes. Not much on paper but a big ask in reality. For starters it was very shabby not to even see an entry from GB in the Men’s K2 1000m event at the Test event in Dorney. What better opportunity to begin building for next year? We could even have had two or more entries had we chosen to. Time is short and there does not seem to be the desire or organisation to put together a credible K2 to challenge for this place.


The Women’s K2 will have to come from Belcher/Mason and Hannah. How that will be decided is up to the coaches but it needs to be done soon.
In the men’s canoes we really don’t look like qualifying any crews by right so the host nation place is the one to be fought for. The place is for the C1 1000m which is not Richard Jeffries strong point but if his 200m looks like being our best potential result then maybe he will get the 1000m as a throw away event to allow him to go for the 200m. If this is the case it will look pretty poor on TV when he bins the 1000m event in front of a home crowd.


I now feel like the person who has announced the “Emporer has no clothes!” I am sure I will take some flack and pretty sure I will not get offered a job on the programme! But I love my sport and feel compelled to tell it how I see it. You may disagree, in which case you are welcome to submit an article and I will publish it on my site. Enjoy your paddling!

 


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