By Siobhan Urquhart, Banbury CC
Last Sunday, 24th October, saw the culmination of the inter-club marathon race season, with Chelmsford winning the Hasler Final for the third consecutive year, ahead of second-placed Royal Canoe Club – in their first final in 40 years – with event hosts, Richmond, third.
The Hasler series is the heartbeat of British marathon canoeing. The divisional system is based on racing speed, irrespective of age or gender, and points are allocated evenly through the divisions. This encourages every paddler to compete, and to feel valuable to their club in both the qualifying races and the finals. From 2,700 competitors in 8,500 races over the Hasler year, 37 clubs qualified and brought over 700 paddlers to battle it out on the Thames.
With the top 3 K2 and top 6 K1 results for each club counting on the day, as a club competition the bigger clubs tend to dominate. However, indicating strength in the sport throughout the regions, over half of the 37 clubs racing on Sunday were represented on the podium, and with all three top places in divisions 6 down to 9 being filled by juniors, the future of the sport looks healthy.
After the morning’s racing over the eight-mile course, the competition was still wide open. However, the afternoon saw Chelmsford take an unassailable lead, with their dominance of all three 12 mile K2 races. These, combined with 5 of their top 6 K1 results coming from the highest divisions shows their depth of talent at the upper reaches of marathon racing.
With the sun shining all day, many were perhaps misled into thinking conditions on the water would be relatively benign. However, the shattered looks on all the faces as competitors wearily carried their boats off the river told a very different story. “Exhausting” “Choppy” “Never got into a rhythm” were the most repeated comments uttered by those who could actually speak. The races were certainly a fair challenge of fitness, stamina and stability – and there were a number of disappointed retirements throughout the day. Marathon canoeing is supposed to be a challenge though – it’s not just about outright speed, and the course certainly lived up to expectation.
There were some very large fields, with 55 boats in Div 7 K1 alone, but the starts were well controlled; the paddlers behaved, and the breaks appeared even. Richmond had managed to negotiate with local rowing clubs and the Port of London Authority, so the river was clear of other traffic during the two start slots, which helped considerably.
With an early first portage and limited access over the Teddington rollers, the races quickly began to break up the fields. Wash-hanging groups were formed from different divisions, and from mixes of K1s and K2s, making it difficult at times for spectators to follow race progress.
Both the top Div 1 classes were both won apparently easily. With only two boats in the K2 class, the Chelmsford crew of James Russell and Lewis Duffield made it a time trial, beating the Elmbridge boat by nearly two minutes. In the K1 race, Norwich’s Tim Pendle, the current National Champion and GB paddler, took control, and finished almost 40 seconds ahead of Chelmsford’s Dan Johnson.
Sadly, on the day many of the bigger names from the marathon teams were missing, despite their clubs having qualified. However, it was good to see Junior European and World medallist Emma Russell racing and taking the honours in Div 3 K2 along with James Walkington. Others who raced despite a long international season were Emma’s GB teammates Lizzie Broughton, Flo Duffield and Joe Petersen, whilst perhaps the hardest working paddlers were Richmond’s Tom Sharpe and Jane Swarbreck. They both competed successfully in the 18 mile Liffey Descent in Ireland on Saturday, then raced on Sunday coming 5th in Div 1 K1 and 2nd in Div 3 K2 respectively! There were also a number of top sprint paddlers racing successfully, proving that, at the end of the day – it’s all flatwater racing. GB paddlers Dan Johnson and Jon Boyton were both on the podium in Div 1, with Tom Lusty and Matt Bowley not far behind, whilst recent Olympic Hopes K2 200 gold medallist, Zoe Clarke, showed she can hold her own over the longer distance, finishing as the top female in Div 4.
Richmond’s 150 volunteers had worked tirelessly during the weeks and months before and throughout the day, to ensure the event ran as smoothly as possible. This included improved access on and off the water, extensive safety coverage throughout the site and the course, and greater facilities for paddlers and spectators.
The individual winners of the 18 races were:
|Div 1||Tim Pendle, Norwich||James Russell, Lewis Duffield, Chelmsford|
|Div 2||Francis Huntingford, Exeter||Tim Gannicott-Porter, Alex McIntyre, Chelmsford|
|Div 3||Philip Carter, Royal||Emma Russell, James Walkinton, Chelmsford|
|Div 4||Jason Smith, UK Forces||Sam Gunn, Marcus Foley, Elmbridge|
|Div 5||Jonny Oliver, Basingstoke||Alex Tonkin, Lili Smith, Reading|
|Div 6||Dominic Stanley, Falcon||Rob Sibley, Alex Greenaway, Falcon|
|Div 7||William Pepper, Banbury||Katy Dixon, Adam Kear, Leighton Buzzard|
|Div 8||Tony Thomas, Glasgow||Wim Brunstig, William Kerslake, Cambridge|
|Div 9||Joshua Fisher, Glasgow||Debbie Anderson, Keith Anderson, Banbury|
Full results are here: