The European Olympic second round canoe sprint qualifiers kick off this Wednesday in Duisburg. This is a chance for counties who failed to qualify places at last years world championships to claim the few remaining spots that are distributed between continents. The rules mean that athletes that have previously qualified places can’t qualify more boats, even in different events. Second round qualification is notoriously hard, with only two spaces for K1 events and one for K2 and canoe. However, the upshot is that people who do win a coveted place tend to do very well at the games, for instance the Russian K2 who won gold at London qualified through the second round process. GB have put forward a strong team with several realistic chances to qualify Olympic places.
Angela Hannah is doubling up to contest both the 200m K1 and the 500m K2 alongside Lani Belcher. The pair initially though they had claimed their spots after their 9th place finish in the final of the World Championships on reallocated quota places. However, following a lengthy court case involving several countries, the court awarded the quota places to women’s K4 rather than the K2. Having been so close to qualifying last year, and with good early season form, beating the course record at Nottingham, Hannah and Belcher are in a strong position. Angela is also competing in the K1 200m. She was a fair way off qualifying at the World championships last year, finishing 19th after winning the C final. However, when she executes her start perfectly she has the potential to finish far higher up the rankings, with a top two finish possible.
2012 Olympic champion Ed McKeever has yet to secure his chance to defend his title. McKeever was lacking form at last years world champs, finishing 17th. However, he won a bronze medal earlier that year at the Baku European games, with many of the guys he beat qualifying for the Olympics. This could well be the closest fought event, with only fractions of a second splitting the top guys. McKeever has got a great track record of performing when it matters, consistently making the podium at international events so last years blip may well be a one off. It would be a mistake to write the reigning Olympic champion off.
Matt Bowley and Ed Rutherford are competing for the one remaining spot in the K2 1000m. They were selected of the back of two narrow victories at the April regatta and the GB Olympic selection event. The pair finished 20th at last years World championships and will be looking to make the second round final first before focusing on claiming the top spot. Both have been showing good form in their K1’s recently so it will be interesting to see if this translates into K2 performance.
Jon Boyton will be competing in the K1 1000m. Boyton had a very strong season last year, making the A final at Baku European games and dominating nationally. He finished 16th at the World Championships, however this belies how close he was to making the A final. He was in a qualifying position with under 200m to go before fading into 5th place. Judging on relative performances he will need to be about 2-3 seconds quicker this year to have a strong chance of claiming a top two finish. There are several big names yet to qualify so this will be an extremely tough event but Boyton will almost certainly be in the final to contest it.
Chris Calvert has been selected for the 200m C1 after a convincing win at the GB Olympic selection trials. Calvert finished 26th at last years World champs so will be looking to improve on that performance. Calvert has been consistently at the top of the podium nationally this year, but with Nottingham being a notoriously slow course it is hard to make comparisons on times. This could well be the last chance Calvert has to compete in the games over his preferred distance of 200m after the recent ICF ruling that the C1 200m will be removed from the 2020 Tokyo Olympic program.
The final pair fighting for Olympic qualification is James Styan and Jonathon Jones in the C2 1000m event. This is a new pairing, with Styan previously paddling C1 and Jones previously racing in C2 with Ian Weir. The new pair put out a strong performance to get selected but are an unknown quantity internationally.
So where are we now?
As it stands GB have qualified 6 Olympic athlete places in the form of a women’s K4 500m and a K2 200m for the men. However athletes that compete in these boats at the games are allowed to double up, meaning that it is likely that we will actually be competing in the K4 500m, K1 500m, and the K1 200m for the women. Considering Liam Heath’s scintillating form in his K1 it is quite likely that he will also double up to compete in both the K1 and K2 200m.
However this could well change depending on the results from second round qualification. One interesting peculiarity of the rules means that we can only qualify one more mens K1 spot. This means that if Boyton and McKeever both finish in the top two this week it will be given to Boyton by the ICF as the longer distance takes priority. An even more odd scenario could result from McKeever qualifying but Liam Heath deciding that he wants to double up regardless, as he has been consistently beating McKeever into second place this season. Theoretically this could mean that the GB selection panel then give the spot that McKeever qualified to Boyton who could then use it to race the 1000m. This is a similar situation to 2012 when we had a host nation spot in the C1 1000m but gave it to a Richard Jefferies, a 200m specialist.
Hopefully we will qualify more Olympic spots this week, we certainly have a good chance in several events. Heats and semi-finals are on Wednesday with the finals on Thursday. We’ll make sure to keep you updated as the competition progresses. Good luck to all the athletes racing!
K1 200m Edward McKeever (Bradford on Avon)
K1 1000m Jonathan Boyton (Royal)
K2 1000m Matthew Bowley (Royal) / Edward Rutherford (Elmbridge)
C1 200m Christopher Calvert (Fladbury)
C2 1000m James Styan (Fladbury) / Jonathan Jones (Fladbury)
K1 200m Angela Hannah (Banbury)
K2 500m Lani Belcher (Elmbridge) / Angela Hannah (Banbury)