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Champions get home and relax, but not for long

WHEN the All Blacks arrived home from confirming New Zealand as the No.1 rugby nation in the world last year, the aftermatch party went on for weeks.

Just days after Aotearoa paddlers emulated that result at the Va’a World Sprint Chamionships on Australian water, life quickly returned to normal.

World champions were back at their jobs, back at school, back to the everyday routine that goes with being an amateur sportsperson after the job is done.

For some, it was a matter of paying back the credit card. Of winding down after an intensive campaign. Putting a sport that has dominated their lives in the build-up to this two-yearly event into the background, but not for long.

The 2016 show may be over but soon thoughts will turn to that old but accurate cliché about sport: “It’s tough getting to the top. It’s even tougher staying there.”

In 2018, the world sprint champs will be hosted by Tahiti — a global paddling powerhouse outgunned this year by their Aotearoa rivals.

New Zealand topped the medal table, thanks to the collective strength of elite and club paddlers, including a powerhouse Gisborne contingent.

Elite women’s coach and paddler Kiwi Campbell said in achieving the No.1 status, New Zealand had “woken a sleeping beast”.

“I know that Tahiti will turn up bigger, faster and stronger (in 2018) than we have ever seen, as will many other countries,” she said.

No room for error“Our preparation will need to be strategic and executed with precision, power and speed . . . with no room for error.”

As it was this year.

“This has definitely been the most successful world championship campaign we have ever had.”

The introduction of elite racing lifted competition to a level arguably not seen in the previous 16 editions of the worlds, which this year featured 2220 paddlers from 23 nations.

Five of New Zealand’s six elite gold medals were won by crews under the coaching of Campbell (elite women) and New Zealand waka ama racing pioneer Matahi Brightwell (junior elite women).

It was the ultimate reward for commitment, talent, coaching and incisive selection.

No one felt the pressure of that more than Campbell, a coach and elite crew member. But she went in with the knowledge that they could not have been more prepared.

“We had a very specific training programme building up to this . . . the programme was prepared last year and it built on the knowledge gained at previous world championships.”

An extensive build-up, including regular camps, gave them time “to blend” and mould a team unit while competing for places in the final crews.

Campbell said it could not have all come together without the assistance of former teammates such as Rachael Williams and manager Florrie Brooking, physiotherapist Riana King and masseur Norm Weiss. But most importantly, the commitment of her crew.

“You are never going to keep everyone happy when you are putting the best team forward,” she said.

“You make it really clear from the outset. You have your friends in there, and there are some tough decisions over who will take those seats.

“I make those decisions. As long as the process is transparent there is no issue. People might feel a bit down about the selection but at least it is clear what the process is.”

The seeds of Tahiti have only just been planted and Campbell, if she chooses, will play a part in that. But before the next plan of attack is hatched there is the matter of savouring the fruits of a long journey on a personal, team and, equally important, family level.

“For now we will enjoy our achievements with our whanau, who walk side by side with us through the ups and downs, and are still our biggest supporters.”

GOLDEN GIRLS: Horouta’s Kaiarahi Toa crew celebrate their victory in the open women’s V12 500 metres at the Va’a World Sprint Championships on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Several of the crew were also in Aotearoa squads who won medals in the elite section of the champs. Kaiarahi Toa are, back (from left): Riana King, Sieda Tureia, Rose King and Kiwi Campbell. Middle: Lucretia Taitapanui, Jacqui Apiata, Penny Scragg and Nenni Disse. Front: Akayshia Williams, Florrie Brooking, Kodi Campbell and Vesna Radonich. Picture supplied
More of the same: Just off the water after winning the V6 1500 metres final at the world sprint championships on Lake Kawana on the Sunshine Coast, Australia, in 2016 are the elite women’s crew (from left) Marianna Hodges, Te Whaeoranga Smallman, Sieda Tureia, Kiwi Campbell (also coach), Rose King and (in front) Vesna Radonich. New Zealand junior and open elite crews and club competitors are expected to make another strong showing at this month’s championships in Tahiti.Picture by John Herbert