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Olympic hopefuls get European experience

By Mark Etheridge

Bridgitte Hartley won South Africa’s only Olympic canoeing medal in London last year but already the hunt for the next generation of medal winners is well underway.

To this end, coach Craig Mustard accompanied a South African Under-16 boys squad to Racice in the Czech Republic last week to give the youngsters some invaluable international experience. The title of the event says it all: Olympic Hopes Regatta!

Says Mustard: “This year’s tour was a change because in the past we have normally attended the Bochum Regatta in Germany but this was cancelled by organisers this year.

“This tour is so important as it allows the young paddlers a taste of world championship paddling in their age group, so later on when they attend the Junior and Senior World Championships these paddlers have got use to racing internationally”.

Just four boys went on tour this year and Mustard explained: “This was because we had the Junior World Champs just three weeks before this event and then the World Marathon Champs a week after Racice. The size of the team worked out pretty well as it allowed each paddler the chance to race in lots of events to gain as much exposure and experience as possible.”

Each paddler took part in K1 and K2 races over 1000, 500 and 200m and also in the K4 over 1000m.

The event has grown over the years to an excellent test of paddling ability. “When the Olympic hopes first started it was an event for the Hungarian, Czech and Slovakian paddlers along with some other smaller countries close to Czech Republic but the this year had a record field of 23 countries taking part, making it a really high standard of racing for the team.

“The best results for the team came from Michaelhouse paddler Jean van der Westhuyzen in the Under-15 category who managed two B-finals and and A-Final. I’m sure if Jean had focused just on his individual events in the K1 section he could have moved up one or two places in each event but this was not the main goal of this tour,” sys Mustard.

“The goal for me was to get these guys as much international racing as possible and this was only possible by having them do the team events. My other goal is to change the idea that paddling is an individualistic sport and not a team sport as currently seen in most parts and schools in South Africa.”

Mustard also confirmed that the goal of the Rio 2016 Games is very much part and parcel of the plans. “For Rio 2016 our best chance of a medal in the men’s section and ladies is in the team boats so we need to start creating this team atmosphere in each event that we go to.

“In the past provincialism has made an appearance in the teams and we can’t have this if we want to contented with the major countries, we all have to see that we are paddling for South Africa and not for clubs and province.”

The KwaZulu-Natal based coach also took time out to praise his young charges. “I’m really proud of this young team, not only for their efforts on the water but it was great to see the level of professionalism and respect for each other, the sport and their fellow paddlers on and off the water ÔÇô that’s what really stood out. These boys, actually young men, were really great ambassadors for our sport and for our great country and I look forward to seeing them grow into tomorrow’s stars and role models.”

There was also some Olympic inspiration for the youngsters. “The Czech Olympic paddlers came out with their Olympic medals to have coffee, dinner and just chat with the team and meet their fans from South Africa.”


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