It really was a case of so near but yet so far for the Australian male contingent at the Canoe Slalom World Championships in Prague on Friday.
A contentious missed gate call and an ambitious cut corner robbed Australia of two potential finalists, but there were also some outstanding results and some very positive signs for the future.
Lucien Delfour proved once again he is one of the fastest men in the world in the men’s K1, but today his quest for speed came at a high cost when judges ruled that he missed gate 21.
His time was the fastest of the semi-final, but an Australian protest was dismissed and Delfour was left to ponder what might have been
Also missing the final were Will Forsythe and Jaxon Merritt, although both showed outstanding form.
Forsythe has had a disrupted preparation because of shoulder surgery, but gave his supporters a glimpse of what he’s capable of by posting a clean run in a personal best time. Forsythe finished 16th.
One place further back in 17th was the hirsute Jaxon Merritt. Still only 22, Merritt showed blistering speed down the tough Prague course, and had it not being for two very slight touches, one which was unsuccessfully challenged, and the Penrith paddler could have found himself in his first senior World Championship final.
It was a similar story in the C1 semi-finals for fellow Penrith paddler, Ian Borrows. His time was competitive, but three touches ruled him out of any finals hopes.
“It shatters me really,” Borrows said.
“I better get back to the drawing board and try and fix it up for next year. I believe now I’ve got the pace, more than I thought before, so if I can put together a run I can be up there with some of the top guys.”
Teammate Rob Jeffery had more than a couple of light touches to worry about. He totally misjudged one gate and ended up underwater. His race blown, he decided to backtrack and do the gate again.
“I didn’t want that 50 penalty on my record,” Jeffery said after the race.
“Even when I’ve made a mistake, I’ve got the chance to go back and practice again in a semi-final situation, with that pressure and the crowd, I got a nice cheer from them which I really appreciated.
“I was pretty disappointed last year to miss out on the team altogether in C1, so I learned some lessons after the games, and there’s still a lot more lessons to learn. But I’ve got a clearer picture now of what I need to do to reach the Olympic heights in Rio.”
In the women’s K1 heats Ros Lawrence was the fastest of the Australians, a quick second run helping her to 10th position.
“I guess K1 is the Olympic class so I want to do well in that,” Lawrence said.
“I’ve been focusing on the K1 a little more over the last year or so, so I’m hoping to see my hard work pay off.”
Jess Fox paddled well within herself to qualify in 15th position
“It was a qualification race, so I had a couple of mistakes on both runs,” she said.
“It’s about the process and building my racing. Some times I get too carried away in the heats and the semis and it doesn’t come together in the finals. So I just want to build my race.”
Joining Lawrence and Fox in tomorrow’s semi will be 26-year-old Victorian Sarah Grant, who kept her nerve to deliver a cracking second run to finish 19th.
“I was a bit nervous on my first run,” Grant said.
“I felt a fair bit of pressure, especially before my second run, but in the end there were only two options, I either would make it or I wouldn’t, so I figured I just had to go out there and give it a go, and make it happen.
“I got to gate 14 and didn’t even realise I was there yet, it all sort of happened automatically, which I think is a good sign.”
Australia’s best chance of a gold medal at these Prague World Championships comes tomorrow when Jess Fox, Ros Lawrence and Ali Borrows race for glory in the women’s C1.
Saturday 14th September
(Times listed AUS EST, 8hrs ahead of Prague, CZE)
6:00pm – C1W Semifinals (Jessica Fox/Rosalyn Lawrence/Alison Borrows)
8:32pm – C1W Finals
9:02pm – C1M Finals
9:32pm – K1M Finals
11:30pm – C1W Teams Final (Jessica Fox/Rosalyn Lawrence/Alison Borrows)
11:51pm – C1M Teams Final (Robin Jeffery/Ian Borrows/Jaxon Merritt)
12:27am – K1M Teams Final (Lucien Delfour/Jaxon Merritt/Will Forsythe)
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