GB success at the ECA Europeans!
It was a solid opening day for Great Britain at the canoe slalom European Championships in Pau, France, with five of the six senior boats in action qualifying for their respective semi-finals on Saturday. With some 200 athletes from 25 countries taking part in this first international race of the Olympic build-up season, there was palpable excitement as the men’s canoe single (C1) and women’s kayak single (K1) paddlers got the action underway. In the men’s C1, David Florence continued to show the strong form he has exhibited all year to finish fifth, which was enough to qualify direct to the semi-final on Saturday. Adam Burgess who won silver at this event last year also gave a competent performance, making it safely through to the next round. Ryan Westley had his best ever season last year, but elective shoulder surgery over the winter has minimised his time on the water and this was his first competitive race back in his C1 boat, with defending his European Championship title far from his focus. He paced himself steadily down the course and went through in 15th place. Will Smith made his European Championships debut finishing 18th after his second heat run. He couldn’t quite find the speed of his first run and also picked up a touch on gate seven to end his hope of progressing. However it was all great experience for this exciting young paddler. The women’s K1 paddlers were also in action today and there were mixed fortunes for the British trio with Fiona Pennie and Mallory Franklin both making the Semis. However there was bitter disappointment for Kimberley Woods, who picked up a touch that saw her finish just below the cut in 16th position.
Friday saw gold for GB as Mallory, Kim and Sophie Ogilvie scooped C1 Team gold, which for Mallory and Kim was their fourth title in a row. Also a two-time World C1 Team champion, Mallory said: "It is really, really good! There was a bit of pressure going in having the three and needing to put down a good run. We managed to stay together and Sophie did really well to come in and deal with that pressure too!" A great way to mark her European Championship debut, Sophie added: “This is crazy and there was a lot of pressure going in with two of the best paddlers in the world. We just went out there to have fun and apart from a few touches we put a really solid good run down. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.” Earlier there was disappointment for the men's (K1) Team of Joe Clarke, Bradley Forbes-Cryans and Chris Bowers as a a two second penalty saw them initially finish in third place behind the Czech Republic and Germany. However a penalty was subsequently overturned for Slovenia, who moved up to silver with GB relegated to fourth. It was also another successful day for Great Britain in the individual events with five of the six boats in action qualifying for their respective semi- finals on Sunday in the women’s canoe single (C1) and the men’s kayak single (K1). Kim qualified in the fastest time with Mallory and Sophie also making it through. In the men's K1 Olympic Champion Joe Clarke stormed down the course to top the leader board and was joined in the semi-final by Bradley. Sadly for Chris he was unable to make it a full house for GB, finishing immediately below the cut in 11th place.
On Saturday Mallory showed she is truly world class by winning individual K1 silver. The World K1 silver medallist hadn’t had the easiest of times qualifying through the heats on Thursday, taking a nervy second heat run to secure her spot in the semi-finals. However today, on a more technical course, she fared much better and nailed her first clean run of the week when it mattered most to clinch silver, only 0.19 seconds behind Amalie Hilgertova of the Czech Republic. Fiona had also been involved in the semi-final but sadly just missed out, finishing in 11th place just one below the cut. She had started off well and was up on clock at the first split, but a couple of touches on gates 15 and 20 were her undoing. Earlier, Great Britain impressively had three paddlers in the men’s canoe single (C1) event, with Adam, Ryan and Dave all making the final. It was Adam who was the top British finisher coming fifth with Ryan finishing in eighth. David Florence missed a couple of gates to end his chances of a podium position. A positive Adam said “It was a very hard course today and it was really cool to have all three British C1 boats in the final for the second year running, which was not really a surprise, given the quality of the guys we have got. I was really disappointed not to be on the podium as it was only the touch that cost me.”
On a great final day of racing for the GB girls, Mallory added the C1 gold to her medal haul, whilst Kimberley Woods took bronze. Mallory was the only paddler to post a clean run in the final and was a class apart in the speed department also and she finished in a time of 109.95 seconds, more than ten seconds ahead of Nuria Vilarrubla from Spain. Mallory said: “I put down a really good run in the end today and had a clean run in the final which was good. It is such a hard place to paddle here, but I just kept a cool head and locked down my plan. It is amazing to have won my first ever senior European title, it is really cool, but I don’t think it has sunk in yet. Sophie Ogilvie also qualified for the final, showing Great Britain’s strength in depth in both men’s and women’s C1. She finished in eighth place and can be well satisfied with her European Championships debut. The drama continued in the men’s K1 with Bradley looking like he had bagged a place in the final, only to find a touch added to his time as the results became official, leaving him in 17th place. Joe Clarke set off at a blistering pace and was looking good for a medal, until a touch on gate 16 saw him sitting in third with two boats to go. Next to go, the Austrian, Felix Oschmautz ruled himself out as he missed four successive gates, but Poland’s Dariusz Popiela put down a clean 94.44 to take silver behind Vit Prindis of the Czech Republic and relegate Clarke to fourth. Joe said: “I am a bit gutted not to get a medal but to be the fastest boat in every single round is one of the most important things and without the touch I would have been European Champion, so things are going in the right direction. I certainly feel ready for the World Cup now and I am looking forward to getting back on the start line.”
Peak UK would like to congratulate all the Team GB paddlers on their efforts in Pau, and we are looking forward to more medals this year!