Rio Olympians Alyce Burnett, Alyssa Bull, Riley Fitzsimmons, Jordan Wood, Murray Stewart and Steve Bird impress ahead of Nationals
Australia’s Olympic paddlers showed great form at the 2018 Canoe Sprint Senior Selection regatta (4-5 March 2018) with Rio 2016 Olympians leading the way with two and a half years to go to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Sunshine Coast’s Olympians Alyce Burnett (QLD) and Alyssa Bull (QLD) led the women’s field placing first and second in the K1 500m on Sunday (4 March) as well as winning the K2 500 together on Monday (5 March). Burnett also took the win in the K1 200 with both Burnett and Bull securing their spot on the squad to contest the 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup Series.
In the men’s events, Olympians and 2017 K4 1000 World Champions Riley Fitzsimmons (NSW) and Jordan Wood (QLD) won both the K1 500 and 1000 events. Dual Olympian and London 2012 Olympic gold medallist and 2017 K4 1000 world champion Murray Stewart (NSW) will join them on the 2018 Sprint team after winning the K1 1000 and K1 500 as will dual Olympian and winner of the men’s K1 200 at the selection regatta Steve Bird (WA).
Along with these athletes who have achieved automatic selection, the selection panel have the ability to select additional athletes, at their discretion. The final team announcement will be made during the Australian Canoeing National Championships being held this week. Selections for the 2018 Paracanoe, U23 and Junior teams will also be part of the National Championships to be held at Sydney International Regatta Centre from today, 6 – 10 March 2018.
Australia’s women paddlers impressed selectors over the two days of racing with Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull leading the charge. 2017 World Champion in the women’s K1 1000 Alyce Burnett kicked off the selection racing by winning the women’s K1 500m in 1:52.51 and with K2 team mate and U23 World Champion in the women’s K1 1000 Alyssa Bull following just under one second behind in second (1:53.44).
“It was really good to come through with a win in the K1 500 and have some girls really pushing me right to the end. Bully (Alyssa Bull) is always very good at finishing so I knew she was coming up on me and you can’t rest easy until you cross that finish line,” Burnett said after the K1. “By wining that K1 500 we’re ‘automatically selected’ on to the squad for the World Cups, which is great. It also takes off a bit of the pressure and we can have some fun in the next races.”
The pair backed up their Sunday results with a win the WK2 500 the next day with Olympian Cat McArthur (SA) and Jaime Roberts (WA) finishing second. Jaime Roberts also finished second behind Burnett in the K1 200.
Looking ahead to the international season and commenting on the women’s squad as a whole Alyce Burnett said: “We’ve gone through a bit of a transition phase with the girls squad and we are trying a few K4 combinations out at the moment so once the team is selected it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. After nationals we will regroup and jump in the K4 and K2 and obviously K1 as well and figure out where we are at and what we will race at World Cups and World Champs. And come Worlds and next year for Olympic selections, I hope we can have a really good K4 on the water. I think we have the right girls around to do it, we’ll just have to create the right combination.”
While 22-year old Alyssa Bull secured her spot on the Senior Team together with Burnett she will also be aiming to make the U23 team with selections to take place at the National Championships.
“Nationals this week will be U23 selections for me and I’m pretty keen to jump into the K2 with Shannon (Reynolds) and try to also have another good K1 500,” Bull said.
Most of the women paddlers are training out of the National Centre of Excellence at the Gold Coast, which has been working well for the team as Bull explains: “So far it’s been really good. A few of the girls have made the move to the Gold Coast and it’s quite a few of us training out of Pizzey Park, which is great. Every day we are training hard and pushing each other, which is pushing everybody’s standard up. We’re working hard to get the best results we can and are looking forward to kicking off the international season soon with the World Cup trip and then press on and race really fast at Worlds – both of them (U23 and Open).”
In the men’s events young guns Riley Fitzsimmons (21) and Jordan Wood (23) continued their strong form and led the field in the men’s K2 events. The pair, who made their Olympic debut in Rio 2016, won both the 500 and 1000 events.
“We’ve had a few hit-outs this season already and the K2 boat I’ve been paddling with Jordan has been getting better with every race and our times have been improving, so I guess we’ve been peaking at the right time,” Fitzsimmons said after racing.
“This puts us in a really good state for the international season coming up. If all goes well we can go on to the World Cups and gain some more international racing experience there and hopefully get a few podiums. And if we’re lucky enough we might be able to race that boat at the World Champs and do something special over there.”
With the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 in mind he added: “My focus and priority at the moment is the K2 1000 with Jordan and I’d really love to race that boat over in Tokyo in 2020. We’re on this pathway now and on this journey to that dream goal. But if something came up in the K4 500 I’d happily put my hand up for that boat as well. It’s a new and exciting race with a lot of countries interested and hotly contested so I would be very keen to race that event. But at the moment the K2 is moving along nicely and that’s the priority.”
K2 partner Jordan Wood, who also finished 2nd in the K1 1000, agreed: “Hopefully coming into World Cups we get a few more opportunities to race the K2 1000 and hopefully we can have that spot heading into Worlds as well and really give it a good push. We’ve got so much more to give and we just want to keep building through to Tokyo 2020, that’s the long term goal.”
2017 K4 World Champion teammates and Olympic medallists Murray Stewart and Ken Wallace finished third in the MK2 1000 and 500 events with Wallace juggling some medical challenges. Murray Stewart was dominant in the men’s K1 1000 and 500 winning both events.
In the K1 200 dual Olympian Steve Bird showed he is well and truly back after a year off by winning the event he competed in at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The 29-year old took a break post the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and has been back in training since last September. Bird clocked 0:36.14 with South Australian Matt Goble finishing +0.44 seconds behind in second.
“It’s been an interesting build up for me having taken a year off. I had a little bit forgotten about the feelings building up the night before but my preparation for this race and weekend was fantastic and I couldn’t have done anything more to put myself in the best position. But ultimately my preparations are geared towards the World Championships in August, so I’m really relieved to get on the team with hopefully a bit more to come,” Steve Bird said.
“We are a really nice racing group in the 200m and we respect each other very much. I haven’t been on the team with Matt Goble, who came second, since 2010 and we are really good friends and it will be fantastic to go touring with him. So it’s a nice space to be involved in wether you are successful or not we all support each other really well,” Bird added about the team.
Australian Canoeing selectors will be finalising the 2018 Canoe Sprint Team over the next few days with the final team to be announced at the end of the week.
Australian Canoeing’s national team paddlers will contest the National Championships next, which will take place at Sydney International Regatta Centre from Tuesday, 6 March to Saturday, 10 March 2018.
See all selection regatta results here: http://bit.ly/ACSprintSelections_Results
See schedule and draw for the 2018 Australian Canoeing National Sprint Championships here: http://canoe.org.au/events/2018-canoe-sprint-national-series/
Follow Nationals results here: http://bit.ly/ACNationals18_Results
2018 ICF Canoe Sprint Events
Follow the Australian Canoeing Team