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Canoeists prepare for unique cross-discipline challenge of Youth Olympic competition

2018-02-09 15:44:09

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Hard graft and handling mixed emotions are all in a day’s work for Great Britain’s young canoeing team as they tackle both sprint and slalom, with qualification for Buenos Aires in their sights. Their team leader explains.

The format involves a head-to-head slalom, with the canoeists setting off down a ramp, through a series of gates along an s-shaped course and performing an Eskimo roll, followed by the fast and furious sprint.

“Every four years the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) puts the teams into a high-level, multi-discipline event that pushes the athletes out of their comfort zone,” Great Britain’s canoeing team leader, Aaron Cruickshank, said.

“There is a mixture of excitement and apprehension from our team and they are acutely aware of the hard work they’re about to have to put in, but they will emerge as better canoeists.”

The Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games canoe competition will once again haul the world’s most talented young paddlers out of their comfort zones and into the challenging environment of multi-discipline racing.

While the disparate worlds of sprint and slalom canoeing usually keep a respectful distance from one another, April’s 2018 Canoeing World Qualification Competition in Barcelona and the YOG later in the year will draw the disciplines inextricably together. The result will provide a unique challenge for the athletes to overcome and spectators to feast upon.

This year marks Cruickshank’s first outing as team lead at this level, overseeing the four-strong squad of Ross Dixon, Thomas Mayer, Lili Bryant and Lois Leaver who are heading to Barcelona with at least one eye on Buenos Aires. Having been on the cusp of a junior GB team himself and coaching on and off since the age of 16, Cruickshank is well aware of the challenges that the four paddlers face, and the rewards their efforts over the coming months could bring to their craft.

“These four will have had limited international experience up to now but they have taken the change of format in their stride. They have been handed this target and they’re happy to go away and work at it. It’s a new challenge.”

The format involves a head-to-head slalom, with the canoeists setting off down a ramp, through a series of gates along an s-shaped course and performing an Eskimo roll, followed by the fast and furious sprint. Unusually, all four of the British team this year hail from the world of slalom, allowing them to work together on the tricky transition to sprint.

“The two disciplines are very different in terms of the facilities needed, the way we train, the boats, the equipment and race format. With a sprint, there’s a lot of upper body involved, plus a strong core through the boat is important to get the necessary stability. Keeping steady on the start line is a feat on its own. Once you get momentum going it becomes more stable.”

All the paddlers will need to adapt quickly if they are to realise their dreams of reaching the YOG. As Cruickshank explained, the challenge to master both disciplines is considerable. 

“The athletes have to be high-class in both boats, so all the training has to be intense to bring the other class up to scratch so they can compete at the highest level. Given the training load in each boat, it is unprecedented to compete in both at the highest level. Usually, the secondary discipline can never get up to scratch and the primary ends up suffering.”

The format may not be the future of elite Olympic canoeing but it represents the kind of challenge that means mastery by these hungry juniors could unlock more major international success. For the Youth Olympic Games, it really is a case of teaching young paddlers new tricks.

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