Its Goodnight From Me and its Goodnight From Him!

Goodnight from Me and its goodnight from him!


So as we enter our next 4 year cycle, having been “more successful than ever” and with £22m in the bank it seems it will be all change in British Canoeing.


First to leave (officially) is Alex Nikonorov, our most successful coach in Olympic medal tally and probably the most consistent coach in the world over the last 6 years as far as results go. Though British Canoeing have yet to announce his departure to China the deal is already done. Perhaps the delay in announcement is due to the decision being a surprise to them and it may take a week before a positive spin can be put on the departure. Alex will be a massive loss to the programme and to UK clubs generally. He was one of very few who not only had a depth of knowledge but was also confident enough to share it with anyone and everyone even if that someone was not on the inside.


Alex’ departure is not the only, “yet to be announced” departure though. Miklos Simon our only other World Class coach has also been moved on, along it seems, with most of his Olympic Team of women. Strange though it may seem to the neutral observer, our most successful coach ever, in terms of getting his athletes to World and Olympic finals, will no longer be working for GB Canoeing. His athletes, 7th in the Olympic final last year, it seems will also be disposed of. Presumably there is just not enough of the £22m spare to fund what has been the highest performing set of women we have ever produced. By “we” I mean Miklos of course. Miklos is no stranger to bizarre decisions, in 2011 at Olympic qualifying our womens K4 reached what was to be the peak of its performances and Miklos reward was to be sacked from his role. Twice being called up to stop the shit hitting the fan and saving the blushes of the Performance department both times each time, his reward has once again been to lose his job.


So we are now two, our only two, world class coaches down, but it doesnt end there. Yet to be announced but seemingly common knowledge among the canoeing fraternity, John Anderson is hanging up his Performance Director hat and along with him Alan Williams will also be departing. Why all these moves are considered to be such a secret from the rest of us remains a mystery, especially as we are required to heap praise on the system as and when they think they deserve it. 


Other issues also threaten the stability of the system at the moment as changes to funding and internal politics are all going to make significant changes in the near future.


UK Sport, it seems, has wised up to the fact that despite, the “lies, damn lies and statistics” the sprint side of our system is not delivering on its promises and/or mission statements. Who can forget the initial mission statement of “becoming the number one Olympic canoeing nation” or having “strength in depth at every level”. To this end UK sport have decided our targets should be sprint specific and we now have to qualify six events in 2020. Considering that 2016 only saw a genuine qualification in two (Women's K4 and Men's K2 200) and a countback place for Women's K2 to make the third, six places is a big ask, especially as the K2 200 no longer exists and ¾ of our women capable of qualification have been removed from funding. We now only have Rebii Simon funded as an U23 athlete and Rachael Cawthorne the only survivors of the cull in the womens team. Would it be churlish to suspect that Rachael’s survival is more to do with “proving” that our talent ID structure works than it is to do with individual performance? Certainly it is hard to see how Rachael is funded yet Jess Walker is not if performance is the criteria.


The six events we are targeting are the two new Women's Canoe events, which makes sense as they will remain the weakest events for a few years yet both in terms of quality and numerical entries, then Women's K1 and Women's K2 500, Men's K1 200 and Men's K2 1000. Notably we are already admitting that we do not have enough strength in depth to contemplate K4 qualification even though this is the simplest way to qualify the largest number of athletes and of course that we already have (had) a women's group capable of qualifying this event!


It will be interesting to see who the Men's K2 1000m crew will be, if it is the obvious option of Gregory and Harding would they still be banned from Olympic competition should they race a marathon earlier in the same year?? Or will the new management rise above pissing competitions?


As an outsider the departure of the top man can only be a good thing, perhaps an entire change of culture and a less defensive, secretive organization can result, perhaps a new culture of honesty and realism that is not based on blaming athletes and coaches each time the team as a whole under performs, maybe even a management structure that is accountable for its own actions……..we can only dream!


It is very sad to see the departure of our two best coaches. They will be hard to replace, as we have already found with Miklos three times now. Alex will be no easier. Once again we have no head coach having just lost our third one in 4 years. Brendan Purcell used his position to leapfrog into a higher role in a different sport, Scott Gardner found himself plunged into a role and a sport that he found was not exactly what it said on the tin and Alex has taken a job offer that he has earned through his own distinguished performance. Our top brass it seems have very little idea what is going on with their employees. 


We now find ourselves with the highest placed person in the management system knowing little or nothing of the sport, all we can hope is that they can be confident enough that they will take on people who know their stuff and not be so insecure as to employ another layer of “yes men” in the hope that their own inadequacies will not be found out.


We have now had almost 20 years of spending around £4m per year on the elite performers and talent development. This has resulted in us having just two Olympians left on funding (three if Rachael is included) and qualifying just two events from 12 at the last Olympics automatically. With the coaches and athletes who qualified those places now departed it would seem our £20m per cycle for the past few cycles has pretty much been spent somewhat less than wisely. We are of course the proud owners of a wind monitoring machine and an ultra rigid K4 or two, at least one of which remains undamaged so all is not lost. If we can find 4 people to sit in the remaining K4 we should be able to “adjust” their race times using the wind machine to prove that we remain “one of the best canoeing nations”


Watch this space!


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