Australia, April 29, 2012: Olympic CanoeKayak, The 2012 Australian Olympic Canoe/Kayak Sprint team announced today has it all. The 16-strong team boasts a defending Olympic Champion, World Championship medallists, a champion iron woman, a British-born mother, and the youngest sprint canoeists to ever represent Australia at the Games.
The announcement takes the Australian Team size to 97, representing around one quarter of the Team expected to compete at the London Olympic Games from July 27- August 12. And the kayak action set to unfold at the Eton Dorney course, also home to Olympic rowing, could deliver a gold rush for Australia. Sprint kayaking has exploded since Australia won a record three medals at the 2008 Olympic Games.
“We had very good Games in Beijing and we are looking to repeat that in London,” Australian Canoeing High Performance Manager Richard Fox said.
Ken Wallace won two medals in Beijing and returns to the Olympic Team alongside a wave of paddlers inspired by his Beijing heroics.
“We have a very strong team with great chances across a number of events as shown by the number of top five finishes at the 2011 World Championships, and we hope to convert those high finishes into medals in London,” Fox said.
“The men’s K4 silver medal performance at the World Championships was fantastic and throughout our recent Olympic trials we saw world-class form from Murray Stewart and Alana Nicholls. “Then there is the experience of Ken Wallace in the Olympic arena and we expect him to rise up again in London.”
Throughout the 2012 Olympic trials it was Wallace’s K2 partner Murray Stewart who proved to have the Midas Touch, beating the Olympic Champion in the K1 1000m and adding the K1 200m and K4 1000m to his choice of races in London along with the K2 1000m.
“We have such a tight group especially over the 1000m and we really thrive off each other in training,” Stewart said. “Having those boys alongside me, especially Ken Wallace as the benchmark, has really helped me and you can see that the standard is so high which is really great for us leading into the Olympics.”
Different combinations will be tested during the World Cup season to decide which boats Stewart will race at the Games.
“Irrespective of which events I end up racing we will have strong crews in everything,” Stewart said, while admitting one event is closest to his heart. “The K4 1000m has been a priority for a long time so having a few options is great, but the K4 is definitely our biggest medal chance.”
The K4 crew of Stewart and Beijing Olympic semi-finalists Jacob Clear, David Smith and Tate Smith had to settle for silver at the 2011 World Championships in what Stewart described as “almost the perfect race.” The Aussies led until the final 250m but were piped for gold by the favoured German crew. “The Germans are definitely beatable. They will be the ones to beat at the Olympics but it is such an open field and we will be right in it.
“Since before I even got into kayaking as a kid, going to the Olympics has been a dream, so to have it finally happen is great,” Stewart said.
West Australian duo Jesse Phillips and Stephen Bird will make their Olympic debuts in London in the K2 200m.
Spearheading the women’s medal hopes is Perth paddler Alana Nicholls. The 26-year-old was one of many Aussies to just miss a medal in 2011, coming equal fourth in the K1 200m and fifth in the K1 500m at the World Championships in Hungary – her two Olympic events.
“I finished those races and I was quite disappointed I wasn’t on the podium. Straight away I thought, wow, I really do have a chance here,” Nicholls said of her first World Championship campaign.
The rising star quickly became accustomed to success on London’s Eton Dorney course, winning gold in the K1 500m at the Olympic Test Event last September. Across the four women’s events Hannah Davis and Lyndsie Fogarty are the only women remaining from the 2008 campaign. They lead the K4 500m crew inspired to improve on their Beijing Olympic bronze.
“To come home with the bronze in Beijing was just amazing and we want to match that if not go one or two better in London,” Davis said. “You are always aspiring to that gold and we won’t make a lie of it, we’re setting our sights on it. We think we can do it and with the progress we’re making I think we’re on the right path.”
Davis and Fogarty are joined in the K4 by Sydney’s Jo Brigden-Jones – one of the world’s best paddlers before a serious shoulder injury stopped her from competing, and by 34-year-old mother of two Rachel Lovell. Injury and pregnancy prevented her from competing in 2004 and 2008 respectively, and now Lovell, who formerly paddled for Great Britain, heads back to her old training course aiming for gold.
Fogarty also combines with champion iron woman Naomi Flood in the K2 500m, meaning Australia will be represented in every women’s boat at the Games. Flood has been phenomenal since switching her focus from surf lifesaving to kayaking “for a new challenge,” and nothing can compare to what she expects in London.
“It’s a massive step above anything I’ve been involved in,” the 2009 Iron woman Series Champion said. “I think it’s going to be the biggest show on earth, full of all the familiar faces you see on TV across a wide variety of sports. Just to be in there in the mix with them, being involved in the Olympic Movement is so exciting. I just can’t wait.”
In the canoe events Australia will be represented by Sebastian Marczak (C1 200m), Jake Donaghey (C1 1000m, C2 1000m) and Alexander Haas (C2 1000m). Seventeen-year-old high school students Donaghey and Haas have paddled together since year six at Nudgee Junior College in Queensland.
“It’s always been our goal to make it to the Olympics and to be standing here now knowing that we’ve got that is just a great feeling,” Donaghey said. “We thought it wasn’t a real goal to think we could come into this year and make the Olympics.”
Donaghey and Haas will be Australia’s youngest canoe sprint athletes to ever compete at the Games. They credit their coach Kevin Crisp, who first introduced them to the sport with their rapid improvement. Across the two canoe/kayak disciplines in 2008, Australia won a record five medals – more than in sports such as athletics, cycling, rowing and sailing.
“Going into London we have everything we need. We have been to the venue and we are grateful for the additional government funding that has given us better medical and physio capabilities, more coaches, better sport science, and given us a more professional approach than ever before,” Fox said. Image © Balint Vekassy/ICF
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