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Wednesday, 10 February 2016
New Zealand's top male kayakers will be looking to emulate their female counterparts when the Oceania canoe racing championships begins this week in Adelaide.
A five-strong male team will represent New Zealand at the three-day regatta, hoping to claim Olympic qualification spots. Marty McDowell will contest the K1 1000m, Scott Bicknell the K1 200m, Zac Quickenden and Ben Tinnely the K2 1000m and Bicknell and Craig Simpkins wil race the K2 200m.
While Lisa Carrington (K1 200m and 500m) and a women's K4 having already qualified for Rio de Janeiro at last year's world championships, the New Zealand men have a longer road ahead of them.
Bicknell opted to skip the world championships to have a running start at the Oceania route, while McDowell drew a fast heat in the K1 1000m 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 through Oceania, 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.
"Using the continental qualification system is certainly not an easy route to get to Rio and we're wanting our paddlers to make some pretty clear statements in Adelaide," Canoe Racing New Zealand boss Mark Weatherall said. "That will give us the confidence to go to the NZOC and really push for their Olympic selection."
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.
The men's programme has recently been boosted with the appointment of top French coach Frederic Loyer, joining former Danish international paddler Rene Olsen who made huge inroads with female crews last year. Olsen's influence helped the women's K4 of of Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie win the World Cup round in Portugal and reach the final at the world championships, while an under-23 women's K4 also finished in the top-nine at the junior world championships.
Two members of that junior crew, Briar McLeely and Rebecca Cole, will also represent New Zealand at Oceania this week in a development capacity, while a 15-strong under-18 national team will also race.
Racing gets underway on Friday morning.
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