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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Scott Bicknell calls it his impossible dream, one which could see him lining his kayak up at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next August.
But to get there needs an almost-improbable amount of water to flow past his paddle, trying to stay floating through a maelstrom of qualification and selection standards.
The first step for the five-time national K1 200m champion is to get through Canoe Racing New Zealand's Blue Lakes 2 regatta this weekend, which doubles as the first official selection event of the season.
Then he'll have just over two months until the Oceania championships in Adelaide, where Bicknell will not only be competing with Australia's best but also other New Zealand boats to snatch an Olympic qualifying spot.
"I love kayaking and I love challenging myself so this is not all about trying to win an Olympic medal," the 27-year-old Tauranga-based Hawke's Bay product said. "It's just a big audacious goal, a big challenge that you just want to sink your teeth into. It's an impossible dream and it's something I want to grab and see how far I can take."
This weekend's regatta will see double world champion Lisa Carrington return to competition, alongside the New Zealand K4 boat of Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie, who have already qualified for Rio by making the final of the world championships in August.
While the female paddlers are already flying, much work is being done by CRNZ to get the men's ranks matching them. Bicknell opted to skip the world championships to have a running start at the Oceania route, while K1 1000m paddler Marty McDowell drew a fast heat at the worlds and missed the semifinals and K2 1000m pairing Zac Franich and Darryl Fitzgerald finished seventh in their C final.
Provided they qualify, New Zealand can only send either a K1 1000m and K2 200m combination or a K1 200m and a K2 1000m squad. And even if they do book a spot in Adelaide, they must then prove to the New Zealand Olympic Committee they're capable of placing in the top-16 in Rio.
It was that factor that convinced Bicknell to skip the world championships, as he and coach Richard Forbes put all their eggs in the Oceania basket.
"Part of the reason for not going to world champs was that we needed a big buildup to make sure we're fit and firing for the Oceania champs, because that's the do-or-die moment," Bicknell said. "We still believe I had the potential to make the top-16 at worlds but the nature of the 200m is that there's no room for error and if you get a hard heat, you're out. We didn't want to take the risk of going to a world championship and not get a top-16 position."
Adding spice to the Adelaide equation is that Australia has already qualified seven male paddlers for Rio, with the only potential spot left in the K1 200m, likely to be challenged by South African-born Stephen Bird, who competed at the last Olympics in the K2 200m.
This weekend's racing in Rotorua looms as crucial for the Kiwi men, therefore, who are aiming to make a statement in the only national regatta before Adelaide.
Things are a little bit more low-key for the top females, meanwhile, although Teneale Hatton will make a comeback to the sport after spending much of the year competing in surf ski events around the world.
She'll go head-to-head with Carrington in the K1 500m, with the Olympic and world title holder skipping Sunday's 200m rounds.
The K4 squad are also on relatively light racing duties, having just returned from month-long camp in Florida.
Racing gets underway at 8am on Saturday.
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