Controversy surrounds the July selection regatta

So, with July selection regatta almost upon us the sun is shining, the lake is flat and conditions looking fair. What could possibly go wrong? Well, there is already considerable controversy surrounding this years selection policy.

Before diving straight in, here is a quick summary on the major changes in the new selection policy and what they mean.

1: Contrary to previous policies athletes can only be selected if they belong to the Senior International Squad (SIS). To gain membership to this elusive club you must hit certain criteria such as being selected for the previous years worlds or hitting a certain corrected time (more on that later!) at any of this year’s national regattas. In theory this means that athletes who are already world class can delay their periodization and peak for the World Championships whilst still allowing upcoming athletes to break into the team. In other words, its a free ticket for SIS members to the early internationals such as the world cups. In reality, with limited spaces, the coaches should still put out their strongest teams.

This policy caused a small furore earlier in the year over when some athletes were selected for internationals without racing whilst others who had raced domestically were left behind. However, it was not that the selected SIS squad athletes “stole” any spaces, there was ample spaces at the World Cups so it could be argued that this is an unfair criticism. After all, no special privileges were given to the 1000m men’s SIS team when selecting for Baku and the women’s team for Baku included a previously non-SIS athlete whilst leaving other SIS athletes at home.

If this policy is implemented properly and with integrity, it is a sensible policy that rewards previous years results without excluding future potential. The problems arise when athletes that are perfectly able to race hide in order to guarantee their selection. Obviously it will be painful if an “outsider” beats a SIS athlete and does not get selected for the world cups, but this is the price of enabling our best athletes to peak for the key competition of the year and so far all athletes that have performed have been selected. It still allows the “outsiders” three chances to break into the SIS before the selection regatta, and in reality it is unlikely that if the athletes haven’t done it by then they are unlikely to be truly challenging for selection.

However, another problem with the policy is that it is very hard to break into the team if the conditions are not fair. Paddlers in B categories can’t get an opportunity to show what they are capable of if they can’t race the A paddlers (obviously they can get promoted but this is easier said than done, especially as there is significant overlap between categories). To combat this British canoeing now have a system in place to convert raw times into “corrected” times i.e. what your time would of been in ideal conditions. This focuses on wind and water temperature. For every 2.5 ℃ the water temperature is away from 22.5 ℃ the time is adjusted by 1 second per 1000m. Wind speed and direction are also factored in (full explanation can be found at the bottom of the selection document). However, the corrected times are very dubious as soon as the wind is anything stronger than a light breeze as the model can’t correct for waves or strong gusts that can massively affect a paddler’s time. The correction system is also pretty useless as it does not account for different lanes in a crosswind. This means that lane nine and lane one will be corrected in exactly the same way even if the wind is coming from 90°! So far this year all three national regattas have been in awful conditions and therefore all the corrected times must be taken with more than a pinch of salt.

2: The other major change to the policy is that the SIS will have their own selection regatta at Nottingham on the two days prior to the national championships. The U23’s and Juniors will still be selected of the regatta itself. This allows the SIS to follow a more conventional international programme, with longer gaps between racing and the option to delay racing to get the fairest conditions.

In theory this sounds like a sensible idea but as soon as you examine it closer the construct breaks down. There is, in fact, only going to be two selection races over the entire two days! This is because the 200m guys have already done enough to be selected for the Worlds and the 1000m men only have three entries for the event which conveniently fall into a K1 and a K2 allowing all three to be automatically selected. They have justified their selection through international results but it does make racing off amongst themselves rather impossible. That just leaves the women’s squad who will be racing K1 in the 200m and 500m on Friday at 4pm and 6pm respectively. This is only two hours apart and a far cry from the supposed international format. These results will then be used by the coaches to select who races which crew boats on the Saturday of regatta. (Yes, we know that this could be another whole piece!) . This follows the Woman’s SIS’s 300m time trials on Monday, which some athletes were lead to believe was a selection event for crew boats before it became apparent it was not. This can’t have helped the athletes stress levels and will have disrupted their training as they tapered for the 300m time trials.

It seems that this policy enables athletes to hide from competition at regattas. There is no reason why the athletes can’t just race against everyone else, surely if they are the best it won’t matter? It would make far more sense if we had a squad of 15 world class athletes in each event, where a regatta could be run with proper gaps between racing that would allow a more realistic assessment of form. Instead it seems at best like a pointless waste of time and at worst looks like GB are trying to hide their athletes in order to allow selection to run smoothly.

On a slight side note, it also devalues the national championships; with many athletes choosing not to race and competition already stretched thin by the separation of classes into age categories it leaves it highly likely that national medals are going to be handed out a little too easily!

3: The final and perhaps most controversial thing about July regatta is the timing of the event, coming on the same weekend as the European Marathon Champs. Since July is the selection event this means that anyone who races at the Marathon Europeans instantly gives up any chance of selection for the Worlds three weeks after. This will affect both juniors and senior men.

Unfortunately, these athletes are among the nation’s most talented and it’s a sad prospect if we don’t field our strongest team due to a poorly worded selection policy. The same policy has dozens of caveats to allow selectors wiggle room when choosing a team and it seems ridiculous that common sense can’t be applied in this instance. Especially when the athletes in question have shown that they are consistently in winning form. In fairness to the sprint committee it appears that they have made some effort to allow the guys to race, the junior selection race is on the Sunday which would theoretically allow them to race after a mad dash back through Europe on Saturday night whereas the seniors could possibly have raced on the Thursday before regatta. However none of these solutions are optimal, or conducive to a good result at either the European Marathons or the sprint selection event.

The fact that the Junior Worlds Sprints is three weeks after the Europeans means that residual fatigue is likely to be fairly negligible by that point, however the selectors have the same problem in September when the World Marathon Championships clash with the European sprint championships as they are only one week apart. In this instance we think the sprint selectors have a fair reason to deny selection as fatigue just four days later is likely to significantly hamper performance.

That being said, sport is about choices and if the athletes have made their choice that they would rather race marathon than sprint, everyone should respect that. After all, if you can’t enjoy your sport then what is the point? It almost shouldn’t be made into a big deal (says the guy writing this article!) because it really isn’t that important as long as they stay engaged in the sport. There is nothing stopping any of these athletes racing for the sprint team next year as long as neither the athletes or the sprint coaches fall out.

Good luck to everyone racing this weekend, we hope its a fair one and everyone who deserves selection gets it!

Here is the link to the Selection policy

This article was submitted by a paddler from the UK. It is presented for discussion and represents their own views.

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