Upsets on final day of slalom nationals
Otago kayaker Finn Butcher collected his second national K1 men’s whitewater slalom title on a day of upsets in sun-soaked Tekapo on Sunday.
Olympians Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones had their title hopes ruined by 50sec penalties as the three-day New Zealand championships wrapped up, with Dawson dipping out in the semifinals of the men’s K1 and Jones dropping down in the final of the C1 women for the second year in a row.
Instead, it was Alexandra’s Butcher who came through in the men’s ranks, with Australian-based Kiwi Kelly Travers - whose parents live in Timaru - winning the women’s C1.
Butcher didn’t spend long celebrating - within minutes of crossing the line, he was straight into helping pack the course down with Tekapo stalwart Alan “Sarge” Hoffman.
“I’ve been coming here since I was 12 and I love seeing all the changes the team has made here over the years,” Butcher said. “The stuff Sarge has done to it has made it world-class and with the new timing gates, it means we can now hold top events here. There’s also something about being able to race in the middle of the McKenzie Country as well - it’s just such a beautiful part of the country and it’s also not too far from home.”
Butcher made a cautious start to his final, after missing gate 6 in his semifinal and having to paddle back around to it.
Instead, he built into his run nicely and came home in a time of 102.95secs, adding to the national title he won in 2014. He was 1.71secs ahead of the next fastest paddler, national coach Campbell Walsh, who was racing for Great Britain.
Tauranga’s Jack Dangen was the next best Kiwi, 3.11secs adrift, while defending champion Callum Gilbert was third New Zealander and fourth overall.
Dawson, seeking his 10th national title, had a slick semifinal run of 100.86secs, just behind top Australian Lucien Delfour, but both paddlers were judged to have missed the 14th gate, which dropped them out of final contention.
Jones, meanwhile, was more than 19secs quicker than her rivals in the C1 final but also missed the 14th gate, eventually finishing fifth.
Travers clocked 142.89secs, with Great Britain’s Hannah Thomas second and Central Otago’s Lotte Rayner third.
“Sometimes I get tense and stressed before a race but I was just feeling really comfortable, had a good race plan in my head and just wanted to come away happy that I’d had a good run,” Travers said. “It meant I could race without any pressure and it worked out really well.”
Jones, despite battling jet-lag after returning from a training camp in Rio de Janeiro last week, did have the satisfaction of winning her ninth national K1 title yesterday, however, outclassing the rest of the field by 16.82secs.
Jones clocked 109.83secs in the final, including a 2sec touch, with Thomas again second in 126.65 and Otago’s Kensa Randle third in 127.43.
Tauranga’s Ben Gibb was also too strong in the men’s C1 final, with a 113.00sec time leaving him 10.94secs in front of Shaun Higgens, while under-16 paddler Oli Puchner stunned his senior rivals by finishing third in 125.61.