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Paddlers in with a chance

Ferkins brothers and Thompson among contenders.

Gisborne kayak paddlers are among the contenders in feature events at the New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships that start at Lake Karapiro tomorrow.

Brothers Zach and Sam Ferkins and Quaid Thompson are rated as chances in a strong field for the K1 1000 metres, while Alex Bermingham, a recent addition to the New Zealand invitational women’s squad, is regarded as a strong challenger in the women’s under-23 K1 200m and K1 500m.

Zach Ferkins is defending champion in the K1 1000m and Thompson won the event in 2019.

Key Tokyo contenders in New Zealand’s women’s squad are competing at Olympic trials on Lake Pupuke, Auckland, this week, so will not be competing at Karapiro.

The star turns at the three-day sprint championships – originally scheduled for February but postponed because of Covid restrictions — are Tokyo-bound K2 1000 metres duo Max Brown (Whanganui) and Kurtis Imrie (Mana).

Brown and Imrie were formally selected for the Tokyo Olympics last month after enjoying an impressive past couple of years both domestically and on the international stage.

However, the duo will face a strong challenge from Canoe Racing New Zealand men’s squad training partners Hamish Legarth (Hawke’s Bay) and Ben Duffy (Arawa), who claimed the scalp of Imrie and Brown at the Blue Lake 2 regatta in December.

Beyond the race for national titles and personal bragging rights, the open men’s K1 200m and K1 1000m events will have the added incentive of featuring as part of the selection process for both the open world championships and the world under-23 championships.

The latter event, which takes place tomorrow, has up to a dozen genuine contenders — an illustration of the growing strength in depth of the men’s canoe programme.

Brown and Imrie will be among the key contenders in the K1 1000m. However, other names to watch for include defending champion Zach Ferkins (Poverty Bay) and the minor medallists from the 2020 edition, Duffy and Legarth. Another danger is the 2019 national champion Quaid Thompson (Poverty Bay) while other challengers include Ashton Reiser (North Shore) and recent invitees to the New Zealand men’s kayak squad Ben McCallum (Waitara), Ethan Moore (Karapiro) and Sam Ferkins (Poverty Bay), younger brother of Zach.

Another interesting entrant is versatile paddle ace Tupu King (unaffiliated), who makes his canoe sprint debut this week. The Papamoa-based athlete has previously starred as one of New Zealand’s premier waka ama paddlers but on a journey to learn and experience other paddling disciplines in only his third surf ski race landed the national surf ski title last month in Whakatane. Talented u18 paddler Kalani Gilbertson is entered in the open race and will seek to make an impact.

The men’s K1 200m (heats, semis and final on Sunday) is similarly competitive, led by Reiser, who is seeking a hat-trick of national open men’s K1 200m titles. Among his key rivals will be Taris Harker (Karapiro), another who was recently invited to join the national men’s squad — two and a half years after being decarded following heart complaints.

Now recovered from his medical issues, Taris claimed top spot in the open men’s K1 200m at the Blue Lake 1 and 2 regattas this season and finished just 0.03 of a second adrift of Reiser in a titanic tussle at the 2020 nationals.

Brown, Imrie, Legarth, Duffy, Zach Ferkins, McCallum and Moore are also expected to feature in what could prove one of the most closely fought battles of the championships.

Both the open men’s K1 200m and K1 1000m will act as part of the selection races for the 2021 World Championships and World U23 Championships.

CRNZ coach Tim Brabants said of the paddlers in the national men’s squad: “Everyone is in good physical shape and looking forward to racing, One of the benefits of having nationals later in the year (following postponement in February) is we don’t have crew boat trials after the championships, so this allows paddlers to jump into club boats with teammates, which allows the paddling community to come together.

“We have a strong group of 10 or 11 athletes at the top end with no big gaps in between performance levels. Hopefully this will enable the strength of the group to continue to improve.”

With the key Tokyo contenders in New Zealand’s women’s squad competing at Olympic trials on Lake Pupuke, Auckland, this week, some new names are expected to emerge in the medal picture at the open women’s events in Cambridge.

Three-time world championship medallist Aimee Fisher (Hawke’s Bay) will be hard to beat in both the women’s K1 200m and 500m events.

Fisher impressed at her most recent competitive outing, finishing less than a second down on double Olympic champion Lisa Carrington in the K1 200m and tying for second alongside Caitlin Regal in the K1 500m at Blue Lake 2.

A strong group of under-23 paddlers will also seek to make their mark in the open women’s K1 200m (Sunday) and K1 500m (tomorrow). Olivia Brett (Arawa), a former world junior K1 200m finalist, is a paddler with hugely exciting potential. Lucy Matehaere (Otago) and Samalulu Clifton (North Shore) both claimed A Final berths in the K1 200m and K1 500m at the 2020 New Zealand Championships and will once again look to make an impact. Alex Bermingham (Poverty Bay), who has recently joined the New Zealand invitational women’s squad, is another strong challenger.

Emma Kemp (Mana) has been a regular fixture in national A finals over the K1 500m in recent times and is to be respected.

Both the open women’s K1 200m and K1 500m will also form part of the selection process for the world u23 championships.

— Canoe Racing New Zealand

In contention: Brothers Zach (front) and Sam Ferkins are both rated chances in the K1 1000 metres at the New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro, as is 2019 national champion Quaid Thompson (see the following picture in this gallery). The championships start tomorrow. File pictures
Quaid Thompson.