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Monday, 5 December 2016
Olympic kayakers Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie returned to competition over the weekend refreshed and recharged, with firm plans to increase New Zealand’s crop of top female paddlers.
And part of that plan could mean a break-up of the historic K4 crew that finished fifth in Rio, with team members heading into the K2 and K1 ranks.
With the fourth member of the K4 - Jamie Lovett - attending but not racing because of illness, Ryan and Fisher paired up for a big win in the women’s K2 500m final, an event that could feature in their plans for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“We were prioritising the K4 for Rio but we’ve had a good break since then and have got in the K2 boat a couple of times in the last couple of weeks together,” Ryan explained, adding that coach Rene Olsen had been tinkering, now that there was an enlarged national training squad of 10 females to chose from.
“The smaller boats are an area Rene is excited about getting into and the World Cups next year are a good way to test it and see where we are against the rest of the world. Having New Zealand athletes racing in a smaller boat just develops the sport even further.”Racing a K4 in Rio was seen as the perfect way to expose a handful of athletes to the Olympics at the same time and it nearly produced a surprise medal. Olsen plans to continue that model, with the option of introducing the likes of North Shore’s Rebecca Cole and Briar McLeely or Poverty Bay’s Kim Thompson to the big boat.
Fisher said having a 10-strong squad to train with had injected new life into their programme, with everyone feeding off each other.
“We went straight into a gym block which, for a lot of the young girls, was the first they’d experienced at that level,” Fisher said. “I remember my first gym block being horrific and I thought I was over-training but the neat thing is that we’re there to lead the way and show them how to struggle. It keeps us honest as well.”
Olympic champion Lisa Carrington was the only big name missing from the regatta, which doubles as a national selection event. In her absence, McLeely paired with Imrie to win the K2 200m yesterday, ahead of Ryan and Poverty Bay’s Britney Ford, while Fisher stormed home in the K1 200m ahead of Ryan, with Ryan easing to victory in the K1 500m.
Top Frenchwoman Léa Jamelot and Manon Hostens - who were part of the French K4 in Rio - added further depth to the racing, with Hostens second and Jamelot third behind Ryan in the K1 500m.
Although Olsen won’t make any firm decisions until the new year, Ryan is already relishing the change in their training.
“I’m such a creature of habit that I was a bit hesitant at the start but the young girls have so much personality and so much to give. We’ve got a lot to give them as well but we’re all feeding off each other. It keeps you fresh and gives you something new to look forward to each day. We’re raising the standard throughout and you can see it on the water. That’s what the sport needs - it’s what the Hungarians have and the Germans have. There’s a certain standard that everyone needs to chase.”
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