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Olympic Day 5

 

Day 5 200m Heats!

In 1994 the 200m races were introduced in preference to the old 10,000m to spice up our sport and appeal to the mass media. Two years ago we were told it would replace the traditional 500m at the Olympics. Whether this was to appeal to the media or to offer athletes with a different physiology a shot at medals I don’t know but ultimately it has caused a split between the explosive athletes and the endurance athletes to such an extent that now most teams run two different programmes for the athletes which increasingly have become mutually exclusive.

It just so happened that here in the UK it turned out we had possibly the 3 fastest 200m paddlers in the world at that time, McKeever, Schofield and Heath all had natural speed which up to this point had not been able to get them to the end of a 500m event. This new gift fell right into our laps!

Add Alex Nikonorov into the picture who seems to understand his athletes and the requirements of this new game and we have the strongest team in the world. The others were all left to play catch up. Two years on we find ourselves at the London Olympics. There is no doubt that this year the event has got significantly tougher, more contenders are arriving at the sharp end and we are not having things all our own way. Though Ed has been wining a majority of the races over the past 2 years he was beaten last year by Simionowski of Poland, 2 more people at the Europeans plus into the mix are also coming the Canadians and the South Americans.

In the K2 it was the French who consistently frustrated Heath and Schofield and just when, toward the end of this season, it seemed we were finally getting ahead of them ,into the mix comes a Russian crew that are looking more than impressive.

Jess Walker in the womens event also gets strong praise and big billing, and in the C1 Richard Jefferies is thought highly enough of that we were prepared to sacrifice our 1000m athlete so he could be given his chance at the Games.

 

So what happened today.

In the mens K1 heats it was basically a reshuffle. 5 athletes through from each heat saw no surprises with De Jonge from Canada being the only relatively new contender added into the mix. He has apparently been injured up until recently and comes into this event with virtually no international race exposure this year. Ed McKeever set the best time of the morning and Simionowski, also out with injury for most of the year looked decidedly average in his heat. To be fair though no one was really stressed into their top performance.

The C1 heats were extraordinary. All the athletes except one would go through to the semis. The only one to go out would be from the first heat which had 7 athletes with 6 to qualify. Quite a shocker then that the one to go was the current World and European champion Demyanenko. I have not been able to find out exactly what went wrong but injury and/or illness must be an option. After he left the rest of the heats were 6 athletes with 6 to qualify. It was interesting to see several of the 1000m guys giving this a go, Brendel, Goubel and Vajda being the main ones. It seems the depth is not quite there in the C1 yet as it is in the K1 class. Certainly though ,the guys at the top end, Cheban and Shtyl are benefiting from their specialisation.

In the womens heats  there were again 6 through from each heat so no significant losses, the points of interest were the first heat, where the current World Champion Carrington from New Zealand was drawn next to Janics of Hungary who is returning from giving birth last year and is clearly hunting this medal down. They went head to head from the start but it was Janics who came out the winner. It is not the final but this would have meant a lot to both of them. The other interesting point was why, when they have an athlete who can medal in the K1 500 would South Africa throw this event away on an athlete who couldn’t even get through the first round?

In the K2s 5 from 7 would qualify so again a reshuffle, some results on paper were not as you would expect but the semi finals would be the real testing ground.

The K1 semis were a simple format. Two semis with the top 4 from each going to the final. The seeding worked perfectly with the top 8 times all progressing to the final. Ed won his semi with room to spare, never off the front of the race qualification was not going to be a problem, he certainly stamped his authority on this field. The big loser in Ed’s semi was the World Champion Simionowski who clearly was not bluffing when he showed poor form in the heats. His time off through injury has taken its toll and there is no room for under par performances in these races any more.

In the first semi there were two times better than Ed’s. De Jonge of Canada and Craviotto of Spain who has come out of the old World Championship winning K2 to take on the K1 field after the K2 failed to qualify. The times though were so marginally faster than Ed’s that my money is still on a gold from the final tomorrow.

The C1’s had 3 semis with the first 2 and the 2 fastest losers going to tomorrow’s finals. The stand out athletes were Shtyl and Cheban with Shuklin the other semi winner. Goubel of France, the 1000m athlete, impressed though with his foray into the shorter race. He took the 2nd slot albeit in the slowest of the 3 semis.

Richard Jefferies went in the 3rd semi and after his torture earlier in the week having to race the 1000m it was finally time for him to get into his favoured distance. An A Final was never realistically an option in this class of field but his results through the year have been steadily improving. This was not his day though, a 6th place in his semi and the 17th fastest in the competition left him outside of the qualification slots for the B Final also. On the plus side he did compete stroke for stroke with Attila Vajda, multiple medallist in the 1000m who is clearly a quality paddler. He has done well in the short time he has been paddling but overall this field was too classy for him. 

The debate will now be whether, in order to gain this 17th place in the C1 200m, it was worth sacrificing our 1000m place and the suffering the embarrassment of our performance in it. The irony is, that Richard, despite not even trying in the 1000m his actual position and result, on paper, is better than in his favoured 200m.

There has been plenty of debate over the spectacle that was the C1 racing this week and this anomaly clearly highlights that the organisation of our sport need to take a long hard look at the formats they choose at events. Especially if those events that are televised worldwide and are our showcase to the rest of the sports world.  

In the women’s  it was again 3 semis with two to go to the final and the 2 fastest losers. This is going to be a tough final. 4 athletes under 41 seconds shared between semi final 1 and 3 seem to be the main contenders, Carrington, Portela Rivas, Janics and Walczykiewicz are going to be going head to head. To me Janics looks the stronger. Despite a very mediocre start (she was sent back out to practice after the racing today!) she overhauled the field in her race and won comfortably.  The Spanish  have clearly been doing something right though with one of the fastest qualifiers in both the men’s and women’s field.

For Jess Walker in the 2nd semi, a very strong controlled performance saw her take 2nd place in what turned out to be the slower of the 3 semis. Her time was 9th best overall, so she has earned her place in the final. The going will be tough though if she is to live up to the billing she gets from the performance staff. An Olympic final is a great result, anything more Jess can get out of the race will be a bonus.

The K2 race was a very strange format, 5 went through from each of the 2 heats, those 10 then raced in 2 semi finals of 5 with 4 to go to the final. Considering this event is supposed to showcase our sport, what would the harm be in having full semi finals? To watch 5 boats racing down a 9 lane course does not give the impression of a well attended event.

Either way whatever the aesthetic of the event the quality was undisputable. In semi final 1 the mighty Russian crew finished almost a full second up on Heath and Schofield which seems impossible knowing how fast our crew are. Perhaps we were not at full tilt but either way this was some display of power.

In the 2nd semi  the Belarus team of Piatrashenka and Makhneu took it to the both the Germans and French, easing off slightly at the end meant they all virtually dead heated just fractions of a second faster than Heath Schofield but nothing out of our league. Probably the most dangerous of these crews is the Belarus one. We have beaten them all year but in previous regattas they have raced in every crew boat at every distance, this time, for the first time, it is only K2 and only 200m and that seems to have brought them up to a new level of performance.

Medals in this event are by no means assured. The French who have remained unbeaten at the big competitions for the last two years are looking only an outside bet for a medal here. The Germans seem to be back on form, Belarus are unbeaten here so far and Russia, to be fair are unbeatable unless their paddle snaps again as it did in Poznan earlier this year.

Tomorrows finals are going to be fun.


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