Historic silver for Tauranga kayaker Luuka Jones
Tauranga kayaker Luuka Jones has created yet more history with her first-ever podium finish at an ICF canoe slalom World Cup in Slovakia overnight.
The 30-year-old Tauranga paddler finished second in the women's K1 final on the tricky Bratislava course, emulating her silver medal at the 2016 Olympics with a faultless display.
"It's been a goal for a long time to win a World Cup medal - I've been doing it for a long time and I won an Olympic medal before I won a World Cup medal so it means a lot to me," says Luuka.
Luuka qualified fifth for the final with a strong semifinal, picking up a solitary touch and finishing in 104.66secs. She was slightly off the pace in the first part of her final run but then stormed home in 100.65secs to take the lead.
"It was a difficult course but going into the final, I had a good plan so it was just about me going out and executing the best run I could. I actually had some mistakes at the top and lost some time but I managed to keep my composure and finish off the run well."
She then sat and watched as the next three paddlers failed to better her time; only Austrian Corinna Kuhnle's withering 99.71sec effort could top it as the last paddler on course.
Corinna has some history on the course; it was the same venue on which she won her second K1 world championship title on the course in 2011. Germany’s Ricarda Funk was third in 102.05.
It's only the third time a New Zealand paddler has won a World Cup medal, following Mike Dawson's extreme gold and bronze during the 2017 season, but it's the first K1 medal of any colour.
It also comes a week after fellow Kiwi Callum Gilbert stunned his more experienced rivals by finishing fifth in the opening round of the season in London.
London wasn't a happy hunting ground for Luuka, who was came away disappointed by finishing 19th in both her C1 and K1 semifinals.
"I went into it in really good shape and probably the best form I'd every been in physically so it was a bit of shock not to perform there. I kind of spent the week working things out mentally and decided not to do C1, because I was feeling a bit fatigued and wasn't feeling completely comfortable on the course in my C1 boat. I just wanted to try something different and just concentrate on K1 for a change and I think it paid off!"
Luuka, who first competed in a World Cup event in 2007, will return home for a short break before returning to Europe to target the final World Cup of the season in Prague, as well as September's all-important world championships, which double as an Olympic qualifier this year.
Auckland schoolgirl Hannah Thomas and Alexandra paddler Finn Butcher will be back in action tonight in their respective C1 and K1 semifinals.
Luuka Jones on her way to silver in the ICF World Cup final in Bratislava, Slovakia, overnight. Photo by ICF media