Olympic Qualification Regatta

Olympic Qualifiers!

This week saw Team GB travel to Poznan, Poland for the final qualifiers for the remaining Olympic spots.
From the outset the chances were slim as in most events only the winners would automatically gain the coveted place for 2012.

Our selected athletes were...
Mens K1 1000: Andy Daniels (Longridge (ex Reading)

Mens K2 1000; Ed Rutherford (Elmbridge)/Jon Boyton (Royal)

Womens K1 500; Katherine Trotter (Elmbridge)

Womens K2 500: Lani Belcher (Elmbridge)/ Angela Hannah (Nottingham)

Womens K1 200; Lani Belcher (Elmbridge)

Mens C1 1000; Matt Lawrence (Leighton Buzzard)

Mens C1 200; Richard Jeffries (Nottingham)

Mens K1 1000m: With our “Host Nation” slot already in the bag all it seemed we needed to enter in this race was a token paddler, to at least appear like we had intentions of qualifying. After a very impressive first regatta Andy Daniels was called on to fill this role. With no hope of gaining the actual slot even if he did win this event you have to sympathise with his position, basically there was no reason to do it and no goal to strive for; it can’t have been an easy one to motivate himself for.
With all the big guns qualifying from the Worlds last year to get to the final here was the equivalent of reaching a B Final at World level. Andy did a decent job but just failed to make it through his semi-final. Had he been racing with a genuine purpose he may have stood more chance but qualification was never a realistic target.
We will now move on to the Tim and Paul show this weekend in the second of the best of three showdown. Having seen the conditions on the course this week with capsizes and several races lost due to slap supports it could easily make a mockery of the pantomime we are already caught in if either of the two hit bad luck. The playground style “best of three” selection policy is going to be tested this weekend, how does it even pretend to account for someone getting an easier semi final or a good lane draw?. Should things not go well there will be a lot of discussion to follow. Sadly the policy is now in place and it is going to be difficult to take luck into account. Who will decide what the best performance is if these two never get to race head to head?

Mens K2 1000;  No host nation spot here so everything to play for. Sadly this only remaining chance to qualify has been overlooked for the past few years with all the concentration going on the K1 and K4 pantomimes. However Rutherford and Boyton showed what they were capable of by beating all-comers at the first regatta in no uncertain terms.
Choosing this race however was a tough break, with several top end K4s failing to make the cut last year there were plenty of World Class athletes pouring into this event which meant getting into the final was much tougher than any of the others here this week. Top Portuguese, French and Italian as well as some other big names were all in the mix. To win this one you would have had to be a regular medallist at World Cup level.

In the end it proved too tough to make the final for the boys who are the best K2 we have, much as they can be proud of what they did this weekend it really spells out how far behind we are in the bigger picture. We have had several K2 1000m World finalists in the past decade but sport moves on and despite our cash rich system we have failed to move with it. Had this final opportunity not been reduced to a second rate priority up to and including the April regatta we would have stood more chance. It is criminal that we never even tried to prioritise this over the K1, never gave qualification a serious thought and just threw away the opportunity without a fight.
This all means that Team GB has failed to qualify a single athlete in the mens K1 1000m events. Spin it how you like, that does not make comfortable reading.

Womens K1 500m:
Again a “Host Nation” spot is in the bag so again a token athlete was put into this event as a gesture. Katherine Trotter, silver medallist at junior level last year, was pretty much thrown to the lions. Her first major senior event, the level of which was always going to be tough for her, and not unexpectedly she did not make the final. Facing the same lack of interest and lack of motivation that Andy Daniels had to overcome in the mens 1000m , you can only hope that the experience was not too traumatic for her and that she comes out stronger than she went in. As with the men, it seems our second string women are quite a way off the pace.

Womens K2 500m
: This in reality was the only event where team GB had a genuine chance of qualification. With most of the big guns already qualified and not too many new names to come in Lani and Angela had a chance of securing our 4th boat in London. Our women have genuinely moved up to World level and having taken the win at Nottingham things were looking pretty positive for these two. However with a winner takes all event it only takes one crew to be faster than you and things suddenly don’t  look so rosy.
In very poor conditions Lani and Angela took a credible 3rd place, admittedly this position was helped by the Ukrainians (From Ukrainia according to the muppet who was ruining the commentary of the event) taking a swim in the last 20m and the Spanish putting in a massive slap support at the same time which moved us up from 5th to 3rd . With luck like that though perhaps an Olympic spot is not all lost when the unfathomable countback system comes in before the games.
None of the other boats could touch the Swedes though who took the race from the off and never looked threatened finishing a full 3.5 seconds ahead of our crew.
For Lani and Angela their Olympic options are now to rely on the countback which is one area our management are always very clued up on, or they will have to push their way into a very strong K4 which is never going to be easy! Good luck girls!

K1 200m Women:
Straight through from her heat to the final Lani was one of the stronger athletes in this event, in the final however the conditions did not suit anyone. Even the winner took a slap support half way down and the German, Wagner took two big supports in the last 20m which saw her lose a qualifying spot. Two more swimmers on the line highlighted just how choppy it was. Lani was never really at the sharp end of this race and 6th place will be a disappointment to her. This leaves us with just the four Olympic seats gained last year in the womens events. 

Mens C1 1000m: Matt Lawrence was really up against it here, with only 2 more athletes to be added to the Olympic list one spot was basically already booked by Sebastian Brendel from Germany who would probably have one the Worlds last year had he not broken his paddle. Fourth in the semi saw him narrowly miss the final.
We do have a “Host Nation” slot in this event though, which does open up a whole debate of its own. Can we justify taking up this slot with the quality of athlete we have available to us? To do so would mean ousting someone with a genuine chance of making the final. I believe at present it would be Goubel from France, a regular World Cup medal winner, who would lose his spot so we can take our place at the event. How you justify that knowing how much work goes into qualifying and knowing we would not progress from the semi final, I don’t know. At some stage sportsmanship must overcome the desire to increase our numerical entries. What stance our management will take on this only they know and only time will tell!

Mens C1 200m: Richard Jefferies managed 5th in his semi-final which left him outside the qualification places but again with only 2 athletes going through to the Olympics from here there was never a genuine chance to qualify. The race was eventful though, with a rerun called after only 3 starters finished the first attempt. Richard himself took a swim which wouldn’t have set him up to perform his best in the 2nd attempt.
Management will now face the decision of whom, if anyone should take the host nation spot if they are brazen enough to take up the place. Will it be Richard who would be a token C1 1000 entry so he can race his 200m or will it be a 1000m athlete who still stands little/no chance of making the final. They are tough choices and I am sure there will be much debate.

On balance over the week, the athletes all put in pretty good performances, the bar was set high though and sadly we did not add to our Olympic qualification quota. Conditions did not help but in reality we were just off the pace at this regatta.

With the door now virtually closed on Olympic selection our Team GB are in this position:

Mens 1000m : 0/7 possible places qualified

Mens 200m: 3/3 possible places qualified

Womens 500m: 4/7 possible places qualified

Womens 200m: 0/1 possible places qualified

Mens Canoe 1000m: 0/3 possible places qualified

Mens Canoe 200m: 0/1 possible places qualified

TOTAL : 7/22 possible places qualified

Compared with 4 athletes in Beijing this could be a step forward but statistics being what they are you can pretty much make anything of it. In 2004 and 2008 we qualified for 4 events, in 2000 we managed 7 compared to 3 this time, so there will be arguments both ways.

From an outsiders view the real disappointment is not that we have qualified so few, (the reality is the qualification system is so tough we have done well to qualify anyone at all,) but that our second string athletes have made no real advances in World terms. Our main team still consists of a very few incredibly talented athletes, below that we are struggling big time. Our U23 system collapsed about a year ago to an extent where they are not only not challenging for big team places but are struggling to hold off the juniors. Nobody it seems is particularly bothered about our lack of depth provided the top guys come good at the Olympic regatta.
A couple of medals will see us touting a huge success but the reality is that under that very fine icing there is a seriously degenerate cake!

Does anyone at the top even give a cursory nod to our “Olympic Legacy” , or is that just the smoke screen for milking the Olympic cash cow, self advancement and jobs for the boys?

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