The annual invitation to the K4 events in Valladolid and Sanabria by the Royal Spanish Canoe Federation again did not disappoint. There was high quality racing, exceptional hospitality and national teams from Hungary, Czech Republic, Argentina, Denmark, Portugal, ourselves and – of course – the home nation, Spain.
The GB crews selected were:
Anoushka Freeman (Royal Leamington Spa), Lizzie Polgreen (Falcon Oxford), Mags Dilai (Nottingham), Anna Railton (Falcon Oxford)
Albert Hicks (Norwich), Lewis Kirton (Royal), Peter Wilkes (Foy), Tom Simmons (Bradford on Avon)
As a prelude to the main racing, there were K1 races on the Friday over a 3.8km course with two entries per nation per class.
Anoushka & Lizzie and Lewis & Peter raced in packed fields and all put up strong performances, finishing 6th, 9th and 6th and 12th respectively. It definitely got everyone in the mood for some quality racing, as there was sense that this was only the aperitif to the main events that were yet to come. There was a real sense of anticipation in the GB camp that evening.
Saturday Valladolid K4 5k
It was a crowded start line and there some big names on the water. With countries using this as a sharpener for the Euros next weekend, the start was predictably fast and, on a tight river with 40 plus boats, both the men’s and women’s teams had an uphill battle (literally up the washes) from the start.
Tom stroked a quality race, but realistically it was an impossible task once they got behind. However, if the men were having a challenging day at the office finishing 8th, the Hungarians struggled as well – finishing a couple of places behind GB. This meant both crews had a point to prove the following day in Sanabria.
As with the men, the women’s boat (stroked by Mags) also struggled with the early pace. However, with quality stroking and determination, the GB crew pulled back to 2nd place. Alas however, the early effort had emptied the tanks and they finished 5th.
Sunday Sanabria K4 5k
A new day a new venue. At Sanabria it was the same format – 5k over two laps. This time both crews adopted a fast start strategy and launched their respective boats to the very front of the race. As Lewis said after the race “after 500m I dared to look over to our left and we were head to head with the Spanish and Danes!”.
It was the same for the women, when a world class start put them at the front of the race battling it out with the Spanish and Hungarians. Both British crews now had the space to move as they wanted rather than, as yesterday, being pushed to the back in the dirty water. The GB men stayed in the leading group throughout until the penultimate turn buoy. Here the pick-up in pace just proved too much, and team GB and the Portuguese had the painful task of sitting a couple of boat lengths behind the leading group. The finishing order was Denmark, Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, GB.
After their blistering start the women settled into a strong cruise along with the other top nations. Again, similar to the men, when the big efforts came for the turn buoys they just missed out. They also had to contend with the wash from a launch carrying an excited TV camera crew, which made a return to the front group a step too far, leaving them finishing 4th behind Spain, Hungary, Denmark.
The combined results placed Team GB 4th in the medal table, with our crews always in the top 8 over the finish line. This was a more than credible result for a development squad but, as is the way with high achieving athletes, they wanted more and are looking to return next year to improve.
As Team Manager there are always logistical challenges, changes to programmes, transportation issues etc, but these are all part of the job, so to speak. However, the reward is the privilege to work alongside athletes who give their all on the regatta course. The K4 teams at the weekend gave absolutely 100%, so you may think they fulfilled their part of the team equation. However, what isn’t reflected in the results is the commitment they gave to supporting one another, and the ambassadorial role they played representing British Canoeing on and off the water.
National Marathon Team Manager