HARDING AND GREGORY CLAIM SILVER IN BRANDENBURG

The 2016 World Canoe Marathon Championships took place last weekend in Brandenburg, Germany. GB sent a team of 14 athletes and 4 staff, contesting 11 events.

Magnus Gregory and Luke Harding came into their junior men’s K2 event with a formidable record: bronze at last year’s marathon worlds, a European Championship title over K2 1000, and a silver world medal for Magnus in K1 1000. As usual they would have to face the dominant Hungarian crews, including Petro and Varga, reigning K2 1000 world champions.

Longridge has emerged as one of the country’s top racing clubs in recent years, and their commitment to all racing disciplines has paid considerable dividends. Magnus and Luke brought a complete package of speed, endurance and race craft to a race which they managed comfortably. Even when the two Hungarian crews managed to split the group at one of the five portages, they comfortably reeled them in. As the race progressed, the other contenders dropped back leaving the Great Britain crew alone with the Hungarians, but our boys were too strong for their second crew and the final lap started with only the two boats in contention. Petro and Varga were strong enough to hold the lead down the final straight and claim the marathon world title to add to their sprint one, with Luke and Magnus on their wash taking the silver medal.

In the junior men’s K1 race the previous day, Luke had raced alongside Leighton Buzzard CC’s Charlie Smith who is still an under 16 athlete. This one was a much tougher proposition and neither of our athletes was able to stay with the lead group on a hard, windy first lap. Charlie got hit on the back of the head by another K1 at an early portage, causing him to be sick; an assessment after the race revealed he was suffering from concussion but to his credit he refused to make any excuses. Luke finished 11th and Charlie 12th.

Our junior girls’ team were also all under 16, part of a very strong group racing in Britain at this age. Emma Russell from Chelmsford and Freya Peters of Richmond paired up in K2 after an excellent 6th place at the European Championships, while Harriet Quigley of Bradford on Avon CC raced K1. Harriet raced with determination as one of the youngest in her category, taking 12th place. Emma and Freya were in contention for a possible to 10 finish but a capsize at the portage saw them end up in 13th. It was a tough weekend for these young paddlers, but with at least two years more ahead of them in junior classes, they will have learned some valuable lessons about racing at the top junior level.

The under 23 K1 races are often the most interesting and unpredictable, as new young athletes emerge from their junior year and the older ones pass into the senior category. The speed of racing is identical to the seniors, although they race one 3.4km lap and one portage less. Sam Rees-Clark of Basingstoke Canal CC and Alex Lane of Longridge raced the U23 women’s K1. Sam has a fantastic track record in marathon with three world medals across junior, u23 and senior classes, although an injury setback has stopped her adding to this in the last couple of years. She looked to be returning to form in Brandenburg and used her Elmbridge-learned race craft to good effect, staying with the front group for two laps, before finishing in 6th place.

For someone who started the year setting Waterside Series and DW K2 records, nine months of constant racing wouldn’t normally point to a strong final event of the season. But Alex Lane has been the revelation of GB marathon racing this season, and finished it off with an excellent World Championships. She dominated a large second group to claim 8th place in the U23 K1.

Sam and Alex paired up in senior women’s K2, essentially to gain experience, but were in potential medal contention for a large part of the race. They were joined by Fay Lamph of Wey and Richmond’s Lizzie Broughton, racing this class for the sixth consecutive season. The Hungarian world champion crew of Renata Csay and Alexandra Bara managed to break away with a South African crew early on, leaving the rest to contest the final medal.

Fay and Lizzie stayed with a group including Czech, Belgian, Hungarian and Spanish paddlers for much of the race, many of whom had a world title to their name. The strong winds didn’t favour our light crew and they had to settle for 6th in the end. Sam and Alex dropped back from this group to finish in a nevertheless excellent 8th place.

As our top senior marathon racer, Lizzie doubled up in the K1 and K2 again this year. Her K1 race featured Renata Csay, keen to win back the world title she lost last year, backed up by her team mate and winner of the U23 women’s K1 Vanda Kiszli, and some may say by ex-team mate Kristina Bedec who now races for Serbia. Alliances can pay dividends in marathon racing, and these three put a lot of effort into dropping the rest of the field before deciding the medals for themselves in that order. Lizzie just missed making the break to that group in the strong winds, but dominated the second group to take 4th, ahead of last year’s world champion Anna Koziskova.

In the U23 Men’s K1, Zyggy Chmiel of Nottingham moved up for the first year after his silver world medal at junior level in 2015. He raced with typical iron determination and was in the large front pack for at least 4 of the 6 portages, eventually finishing 10th, an excellent debut for an athlete with four years left in this class.

Keith Moule of Chelmsford raced senior men’s K1 for the third consecutive year, and a brace of top 10 finishes behind him. This year’s race was as exciting as ever, with reigning world champion Hank McGregor from South Africa looking comfortable despite the star cast of pretenders. Hank retained his title ahead of younger compatriot Andy Birkett and the popular Portuguese Jose Ramalho, in a race where the top 10 all finished within a minute. Keith finished 18th in what was effectively the third large group on the water, less than 3 minutes behind.

The final race of the weekend was the men’s K2. Unlike in the recent European Championships, the Spanish crews were unable to paddle away leaving others in their wake, and the front group remained at least 10 strong for most of the race. This included Norwich’s Tim Pendle, a regular in this event, joined for the first time by 2009 junior world champion Ed Rutherford of Elmbridge. Keith Moule and Zyggy Chmiel also doubled up after their K1 races. Ed and Tim showed they were very much at the top level in this event, but became detached from the front group in the later stages, finishing 10th. Keith and Zyggy finished three places behind, despite spending half the race with a very wonky rudder. Ahead of them, South Africa again claimed two medals, split by a Hungarian crew.

The staff had to work hard throughout the event in the face of some decidedly un-German organisational efficiency, a fact which was recognised by the athletes. Elmbridge’s Katie Williams multi-tasked as coach, mobile sports masseuse, shoulder to cry on and all-round organiser. Reading CC’s Dave Sackman organised dozens of shuttle runs to and from the course after driving the minibus over, while Chester’s Melvin Swallow lent his legendary mechanical skills to keeping our fleet of boats working. Melvin is also regarded as the safest pair of hands in the portage, deftly looping drinks bags over heads with a 100% success rate, while carbon missiles flew towards him.

It’s a wonder the team manager had anything to do, but somehow I managed to fill my time.

James Smythe

RESULTS SUMMARY

JMK1

Luke Harding 11th @ 03:29

Charlie Smith 12th @ 04:33

JMK2

Luke Harding / Magnus Gregory 2nd @ 00:01

JWK1

Harriet Quigley 12th @ 05:39

JWK2

Freya Peters / Emma Russell 13th @ 08:59

SMK1

Keith Moule 18th @ 02:55

SMK2

Tim Pendle / Ed Rutherford 10th @ 01:48

U23MK1

Zyggy Chmiel 10th @ 04:49

SWK1

Lizzie Broughton 4th @01:57

SWK2

Lizzie Broughton / Fay Lamph 6th @ 03:39

Sam Rees-Clark / Alex Lane 8th @ 04:41

U23WK1

Sam Rees-Clark 6th @ 04:00

Alex Lane 8th @ 05:15