Kayaker’s winning return after heart issues

Taris Harker wins the K1 200m final at the 2021 NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships. Photo: Supplied.

A former Tauranga based kayaker has completed a remarkable turnaround to be named New Zealand’s fastest paddler at the 2021 NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro.

Taris Harker edged an exhilarating open men’s K1 200m final to provide a rousing climax to the final day of action.

The 24-year-old, who relocated to Tauranga from Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake and is now based in Hamilton, was decarded by New Zealand men’s kayak squad in October 2018 due to heart-related issues, just one year after significant Olympic buzz surrounded his name.

He cut an understandably emotional figure post-race shedding tears of joy as he hugged his mum and sister.

The open K1 men’s 200m final was always likely to provide a race of high drama and it did not disappoint as just 0.35 separated the three medallists, who competed in near perfect conditions after the early morning mist had cleared.

Kurtis Imrie, the open men’s K1 500m champion, and Zach Ferkins, the fastest qualifier for the final, made lightning fast starts.

However, both Harker and Ashton Reiser, who was hunting a hat-trick of national titles in this event, quickly emerged as the principal candidates in this high-octane event.

As the race progressed, it was Harker who came to the fore opening up a narrow advantage to seize tentative control of the race.

In the final few strokes it became apparent Harker would not be caught and the local paddler, who represents the Karapiro Kayak Club, toasted his first ever national open men’s K1 200m title in a time of 37.54.

Reiser put up a stout defence of his title, finishing 0.20 seconds in arrears, with Imrie securing bronze in 37.89 to complete the full suite of medals in the open men’s K1 events this weekend having snared K1 500m gold and K1 1000m silver in the preceding two days.

“It has been a long time coming,” says Harker, who was re-invited back into the national squad following a two-and-a-half year period on the sidelines.

“I’m just happy to be back in the squad, healthy to and able to make an impression. It is really cool.

“At the start I could definitely see Kurtis, he’s a bit quicker than me over those first few strokes. From that point on I couldn’t see anyone, I didn’t want to look. I was just focused on the line.”

Harker claimed his second gold and third medal of the day as he helped the Karapiro Kayak club to the open men’s K4 200m gold.

Paddling alongside Jake Koekemoer, Ethan Moore and Tim Waller the quartet set their stall from the outside and held a clear half-length advantage by halfway.

On their inside the North Shore crew unleashed a late surge, but Karapiro would not be denied taking gold in 34.02 by 0.68 silver medallists North Shore. Bronze went to the Eastern Bay quartet.

The open women’s K1 200m final was taking out by Kim Thompson who proved too strong for the opposition with an assured display.

However, the big story was the disqualification of pre-event favourite and open women’s K1 500m champion Aimee Fisher from the heats for she committed a false-start.

Fisher’s premature end to the competition opened a path for Thompson, the quickest qualifier to advance to the final, to take gold despite a spirited effort from Olivia Brett (Arawa) to challenge for victory.

Thompson flashed past the finish in 43.92 – to finish 0.64 ahead of Brett, the silver medallist. Lucy Matehaere (Otago) claimed bronze in 46.50 by just 0.07 from Samoa’s Olympic-bound paddler Anne Cairns.

The Auckland-based Poverty Bay paddler said she had “zero expectation” leading into the regatta, so was delighted to add her name to the roll call of champions in this event.

The crew boats also provided some top drawer action throughout the day with the open men’s K2 200m providing the same gold and silver medallists as the 2020 edition with Ben Duffy and Hamish Legarth (Hawkes Bay) proving just too strong for Harker and Ethan Moore (Karapiro).

Duffy and Legarth have consistently proved one of the finest combinations on the national scene in recent times and the well-oiled pairing were a class apart, registering 34.65 – 1.07 seconds clear of their nearest rivals.

Reiser and Kalani Gilbertson crossed the line in third but were DQd for an underweight boat. Martlew and Ben McCallum (Arawa) were consequently upgraded to bronze (37.29).

After her disappointment of disqualification in the K1 200m, Fisher earned some consolation by pairing up with Brett to take an decisive gold medal in the open women’s K2 200m final.

The Arawa pair were never seriously threatened and crossed the line in 40.73 – 3.44 seconds clear of Thompson and Courtney Williams (North Shore). The Marquet siblings - Brittany and Jess - earned reward for their efforts to take out bronze in 44.56.

Fisher and Thompson completed their championship schedule with a second open gold medal of the day as part of the Poverty Bay quartet – which also contained Brooklyn Saunders and Alex Bermingham - which cruised to open women’s K4 200m gold in 41.39 ahead of silver medallists Mana.

Imrie added another gold medal to his impressive championship swag as he teamed with Emma Kemp to snag top spot in the Mixed K2 200m final. The Mana duo proved too strong for all-comers stopping the clock in 38.94 – 0.83 clear of Para canoeist Scott Martlew and Brittany Marquet (Arawa), who grabbed silver. Alex Bermingham and Sam Ferkins (Poverty Bay) 40.03 claimed the bottom rung on the podium.

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