Gordon Walker hopes the success of the New Zealand kayaking team in Tokyo will be the catalyst for further growth and achievement in the sport.
The squad and support staff arrived back home on Monday night, after a campaign that reached dizzying heights. With three gold medals, it was the most successful Olympic performance since Los Angeles in 1984, and among the other New Zealand sports, only rowing had more podium finishes in Tokyo. But beyond the precious metal claimed by Lisa Carrington and Caitlin Regal, the six days on the Sea Forest Waterway also revealed the burgeoning depth in the programme.
Max Brown and Kurtis Imrie claimed a remarkable fifth in the men’s K2 1000m A final, improving from a 15th placing at the world championships. The women’s K4 500m crew of Carrington, Alicia Hoskin, Caitlin Regal and Teneale Hatton finished fourth in the A final, an impressive effort in their first international meet. Regal won the K1 500m B final (ninth overall), while Hoskin and Hatton progressed steadily in the K2 500m, reaching the semi finals before eventually finishing sixth in the B final.
“We have had nice growth in the sport and hopefully this can lead to more,” said Walker, CRNZ’s Technical Director. “We have certainly got some momentum in the women’s program but we need to take advantage of that, and the same for the men.”
With the campaign only finishing last Saturday, Walker and the team have barely had a chance to catch their breath, with the subsequent swift departure from Tokyo. There will be debriefs and analysis completed over the coming weeks, but Walker’s personal vision for the future is clear. “I would love to see New Zealand have a K4 in the final of the men’s and women’s event at the Olympics,” said Walker. “That is certainly a bit of a dream for me. I took a lot of inspiration from the women’s eight and men’s eight (rowing) and how they had a plan in place before Rio.”
“[The big boats] create an immense amount of opportunity and depth in the sport and that is what we would love to see – a couple of K4’s in the starting blocks would be a phenomenal achievement.”
Reflecting on the time in Tokyo, Walker said everyone was pretty exhausted, but very satisfied and proud. “It was a complete team effort – and needed to be – at that level,” said Walker. “It was an incredible performance. [It showed] people who are so passionate about their jobs and doing such a great version of it.”
The meet finished with the women’s K4 500m final on Saturday, with the New Zealand crew pipped for a medal. Hungary won in 1:35.463, ahead of Belarus (1:36.073) and Poland (1:36.445) , with the Kiwi crew stopping the clock in 1:37.168. “They did a lot of time trials but it was great to finally get to race other crews,” said Walker. “It was great to see the boat down the track for the first time.”
Heavy rain just before the start made conditions tough, and the New Zealanders couldn’t replicate their time of the semi-final, which would have been good enough for bronze in the final. “The K4 is very organic,” says Walker. “There are so many variables that come into play.”
Rookie Hoskin loved the experience in the Japanese capital. “The scoreboard is one way to measure success but we’re just really proud of the way we helped each other as a team and you know, who we are and how we represented the Fern,” said the 21-year-old.
Walker was also thrilled for Brown and Imrie, who achieved the best result by a New Zealand’s men crew since the 5th placing of Steven Ferguson and Mike Walker in Beijing. He paid tribute to men’s coach Tim Brabants, who has helped engineer their rise from 19th at the 2019 World Championships.
And then there was Carrington, who became New Zealand’s most successful Olympian of all time, with six medals (2012, gold; 2016 gold, bronze; 2020 three golds). Walker has worked with the Ohope paddler for a decade but admitted her performances in Tokyo reached new levels of excellence. “She was able to be the athlete she needed to be for the race in the moment which was incredible,” said Walker. “The Olympics is the best of the best already. All these people are really good, so racing is hot from the first go.”
For her part, Carrington was delighted with the overall team effort. “The success earlier in the week is really the success of our whole team, Carrington told Sky Television after the K4 500m final. “We couldn’t have done anything earlier this week without these [other] girls and the team who stay dry.”
“It’s been an epic six days. But this is kind of the icing – we have been working hard for a very long time. It’s nice to look back and be proud of what we have done. Our sport is in a really cool, exciting place. We have to keep working hard to have a good team [and] to compete against the world.”
Regal echoed those thoughts. “It’s been a long campaign and we have been through thick and thin together,” said the 29-year-old. “This is the strongest team we have ever had. To be a part of that I feel very privileged.”
CRNZ CEO Tom Ashley said “This five-year Olympic campaign has tested our team in many ways. We are so proud of the way this group has represented Aotearoa and the paddling community. Performances like those we witnessed last week inspire the nation. CRNZ would like to acknowledge our athletes, but also the massive group on whose shoulders they stand – their predecessors in the sport, coaches, teammates, support staff, families, friends and supporters. Thank you all, and
we look forward to building on this success for the future.”
Results summary: New Zealand Kayaking team at the Tokyo Olympics
Women’s K1 200m (34 competitors)
Gold – Lisa Carrington 38.120
Women’s K1 500m (41 competitors)
Gold – Lisa Carrington 1:51.216
Ninth – Caitlin Regal 1:53.681
Women’s K2 500m (20 crews)
Gold – Carrington/Regal 1:35.785
14th – Alicia Hoskin/Teneale Hatton 1:41.121
Women’s K4 500m (12 crews)
Fourth – Carrington/Hoskin/Regal/Hatton 1:37.168
Men’s K2 1000m (16 crews)
Fifth – Max Brown/Kurtis Imrie 3:17.267