Sprinters' Hungary medal hunt | SASCOC - SASCOC

Sprinters’ Hungary medal hunt

Three weeks after a promising opening weekend of international racing, the South African Sprint Kayak Squad is ready to lay siege to another European city at the second 2010 International Canoe Federation Sprint World Cup this weekend.

The 15 athletes that competed in Vichy, France at the first World Cup have since based themselves in Hungary, which is regarded as the spiritual home of sprint kayaking. This weekend’s World Cup takes place in Szeged, where it is not uncommon to race in front of carnival crowds of 30,000 spectators.

The past few weeks have not been easy, as the squad has been put through some rigorous training sessions, sometimes up to four times per day. Tapering started during this final week lead-up to the racing, and the athletes are now eager to measure themselves against the world’s best.

No one seems keener than SASCOC Opex squad member Mike Arthur, whose K2 partnership with Shaun Rubenstein is focused on the new Olympic distance 200m event. ÔÇ£This years professional approach is definitely paying off,ÔÇØ said Arthur earlier this week. ÔÇ£Going into France we were three weeks off our peak and managed to pull off a 4th place. With everything still going according to plan I am confident that we will improve on that result this weekend.ÔÇØ

Rubenstein is also bullish about the pair’s performance at Szeged. ÔÇ£We have set ourselves big goals for this World Cup so we are going out there to give it our all and hopefully walk away with a medal this time around,ÔÇØ said the seasoned SA champion. The combination has a slightly easier schedule this weekend in that they are likely to have a few hours to recover between their 500m and 200m A Finals on Sunday.

South Africa’s golden girl Bridgitte Hartley will once again be taking part in all three sprint distances, and will be hoping to add more medals to the silver she won in the K1 1000m at the last World Cup. Hartley has been a supreme force over 1000m in the past two years, but will have to concentrate her efforts on the women’s 500m and 200m distances in order to fulfill her ambitions of medaling at the Olympic Games.

Jen Hodson is the country’s other big hope in the ladies K1 200m, a distance the Gauteng veteran revels over. Hodson’s return to the international fold after a two-year break has been much anticipated, and she will be boosted by her results at the last World Cup, which confirmed that she hasn’t got too much to do to return to the form that saw her race in the 500m A-Final at the Beijing Olympics.

Rising K1 star Nick Stubbs placed second in the 500m B-Final in France and was unfortunate to be disqualified in the 1000m semi-final, so it appears an A-Final is well within reach of the talented youngster, and anything can happen from there. Likewise brothers Ryan and Greg Louw will be pushing to take the step up to the A-Final start line in the K2 200m.

The squad was joined two weeks ago by the four ladies that make up the new Women’s K4, a crew that will be racing in its first senior international regatta. Support from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund has allowed Canoeing South Africa to send a large team to compete internationally, and the experience the younger paddlers will gain is invaluable for future success. The novice men’s K4 is also on a steep learning curve, and qualifying for a Final in the 1000m will be a big achievement.

Elsewhere Len Jenkins will be hoping for an improved performance following his disappointment in France, Cam Schoeman and Stu Waterworth will be kicking hard to reach a B-Final in their K2 races, and Calvin Mokoto is entered for all three distances in the C1 category. This is the final World Cup that the South African team will compete in before they return home to focus on the World Championships.

The Szeged World Cup begins on Friday morning with the 1000m heats, with the 1000m finals taking place on Saturday and the 500m and 200m Finals on Sunday. For more information, or to follow the results, visit www.kajakkenusport.hu/worldcup2010/en