Two years out from the Rio Olympics, and Australia’s London gold medalists, the men’s K4, will be out to make a statement at this week’s World Canoe Sprint Championships in Moscow.
But while most of the attention will be on Tate Smith, Murray Stewart, David Smith and Jacob Clear, it will be the form of several new combinations that will be most closely scrutinized by Australian Canoeing.
The K4 are proven quality, and while they had to settle for bronze at last year’s World Championships, that was off the back of a very limited preparation.
This year is very different, with the foursome beating a world-class field at their last World Cup outing in Szeged.
And to add further intrigue, there’s been a shuffle in boat seats. David Smith has moved into seat one, from where he’ll set the tempo and stroke the boat, with Tate Smith moving back into the second seat.
Murray Stewart will be out to make a statement in the K1 1000, after his gutsy second behind German powerhouse Max Hoff in Szeged.
Stewart is determined to compete in both the K4 and K1 in Rio, as he did in London, and a strong performance in Moscow will go a long way toward convincing those who think it’s too much.
It didn’t go to plan for Stewart in London, but he was battling illness and knows he was only a shadow of his former self.
One of the new boats which will send chills down the spines of opponents this week is the K2 1000 combination of Kenny Wallace and Lachlan Tame.
“This new crew will no doubt be exciting to watch after a solid block of training together since the end of May,” National Performance Director Richard Fox said.
“Tame’s speed and Wallace’s renowned finish could be a lethal cocktail that will ruffle the fancied European feathers.”
Also sure to turn heads will be the freshly minted women’s K2 combination of Jo Brigden-Jones and Naomi Flood.
“Jo’s front-end speed and Naomi’s finishing power makes this a strong crew for Australia,” Fox said.
“It’s still a new pairing, but increased time together in the boat since the domestic season has led to improved consistency in training. It will certainly be put to the test against the Hungarians, Germans and Poles.”
Brigden-Jones will also compete in her pet event, the K1 200, where she’ll come up against New Zealand lightning bolt, Lisa Carrington.
Perth paddler Alana Nicholls will make a welcome return to the National team after missing the World Cups to overcome an injury.
Nicholls was one of the world’s best K1 500 paddlers in 2011, and her training form under coach Ramon Andersson has been strong leading into this week.
Australia’s K4 500 crew of Cat McArthur, Alyce Burnett, Jaime Roberts and Bernadette Wallace come to Moscow looking to build on some solid early season individual and team form.
McArthur and Burnett were impressive at the Under 23 Worlds, and under the stewardship of the experienced Wallace a strong showing is expected.
Of particular interest will be the K4’s duel with New Zealand, with Oceania quotas for next year’s World Championships on the line.
Lachlan Tame has had to split his training leading into Moscow between his K2 1000 commitments and his K1 200.
He’ll be aiming to improve on his 16th at last year’s Worlds.
Also looking to improve this year will be the K2 200 combination of Jesse Phillips and Steve Bird.
The London Olympians narrowly missed last year’s finals, and will need to burst from the blocks against a quality field, headed by Germany and reigning world champions, Russia.
Jordan Wood was another strong performer for Australia at the U23 worlds, and his partnership with fellow U23 paddler Michael Booth in the K2 500 will be worth seeing.
“This is a non-Olympic event, so it’s about developing Australia’s next generation of athletes with World Championship exposure,” Fox said.
Racing begins in Moscow on Wednesday with a full day of paracanoe events, with the first able-bodied events starting Thursday.