Taris proves the New Zealand speed king

Taris Harker was crowned ‘New Zealand’s fastest paddler’ as he edged an exhilarating open men’s K1 200m final to provide a rousing climax to the final day of action at the 2021 NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships at Lake Karapiro.

The 24-year-old athlete, who was recently been re-invited back to join the New Zealand Kayak squad having been de-carded in 2018 following heart issues, cut an understandably emotional figure post-race shedding tears of joy as he hugged his mum and sister.

The open K1 men’s 200m final was always likely to provide a race of high drama and it did not disappoint as just 0.35 separated the three medallists, who competed in near perfect conditions after the early morning mist had cleared.

Kurtis Imrie, the open men’s K1 500m champion, and Zach Ferkins, the fastest qualifier for the final, made lightning fast starts.

However, both Harker and Ashton Reiser, who was hunting a hat-trick of national titles in this event, quickly emerged as the principal candidates in this high-octane event.

As the race progressed, it was Harker who came to the fore opening up a narrow advantage to seize tentative control of the race.

In the final few strokes it became apparent Harker would not be caught, and the local paddler who represents the Karapiro Kayak Club toasted his first ever national open men’s K1 200m title in a time of 37.54. Reiser put up a stout defence of his title, finishing 0.20 seconds in arrears, with Imrie securing bronze in 37.89 to complete the full suite of medals in the open men’s K1 events this weekend having snared K1 500m gold and K1 1000m silver in the preceding two days.

An elated Harker, who was re-invited back into the national squad following a two-and-a-half year period on the sidelines, said: “It has been a long time coming. I’m just happy to be back in the squad, healthy to and able to make an impression. It is really cool.

“At the start I could definitely see Kurtis, he’s a bit quicker than me over those first few strokes. From that point on I couldn’t see anyone, I didn’t want to look. I was just focused on the line.”

The open women’s K1 200m final was taking out by Kim Thompson who proved too strong for the opposition with an assured display.

However, the big story was the disqualification of pre-event favourite and open women’s K1 500m champion Aimee Fisher from the heats after committing a false-start.

Fisher’s premature end to the competition opened a path for Thompson, the quickest qualifier to advance to the final, to take gold despite a spirited effort from Olivia Brett (Arawa) to challenge for victory.

Thompson flashed past the finish in 43.92 – to finish 0.64 ahead of Brett, the silver medallist. Lucy Matehaere (Otago) claimed bronze in 46.50 by just 0.07 from Samoa’s Olympic-bound paddler Anne Cairns. 

The Auckland-based Poverty Bay paddler said she had “zero expectation” leading into the regatta, so was delighted to add her name to the roll call of champions in this event.

“I’m stoked,” said Thompson. “The start was good, which can be a bit hit and miss at the moment. I was holding on through the last 50m my back end of the race is a bit of a struggle at the moment because I haven’t done much training. 

“At the moment I paddle when I can around work. I’m happy to be down here in the nice weather paddling with the squad.”

The crew boats also provided some top drawer action throughout the day with the open men’s K2 200m providing the same gold and silver medallists as the 2020 edition with Ben Duffy and Hamish Legarth (Hawkes Bay) proving just too strong for Harker and Ethan Moore (Karapiro).

Duffy and Legarth have consistently proved one of the finest combinations on the national scene in recent times and the well-oiled pairing were a class apart, registering 34.65 – 1.07 seconds clear of their nearest rivals.

Reiser and Kalani Gilbertson crossed the line in third but were DQd for an underweight boat. Martlew and Ben McCallum (Arawa) were consequently upgraded to bronze (37.29). 

After her disappointment of disqualification in the K1 200m, Fisher earned some consolation by pairing up with Brett to take an decisive gold medal in the open women’s K2 200m final.

The Arawa pair were never seriously threatened and crossed the line in 40.73 – 3.44 seconds clear of Thompson and Courtney Williams (North Shore). The Marquet siblings – Brittany and Jess – earned reward for their efforts to take out bronze in 44.56.

Fisher and Thompson completed their championship schedule with a second open gold medal of the day as part of the Poverty Bay quartet – which also contained Brooklyn Saunders and Alex Bermingham – which cruised to open women’s K4 200m gold in 41.39 ahead of silver medallists Mana. 

Harker claimed his second gold and third medal of the day as he helped the Karapiro Kayak club to the open men’s K4 200m gold.

Paddling alongside Jake Koekemoer, Ethan Moore and Tim Waller the quartet set their stall from the outside and held a clear half-length advantage by halfway.

On their inside the North Shore crew unleashed a late surge, but Karapiro would not be denied taking gold in 34.02 by 0.68 silver medallists North Shore. Bronze went to the Eastern Bay quartet.

Imrie added another gold medal to his impressive championship swag as he teamed with Emma Kemp to snag top spot in the Mixed K2 200m final. The Mana duo proved too strong for allcomers stopping the clock in 38.94 – 0.83 clear of Para canoeist Scott Martlew and Brittany Marquet (Arawa), who grabbed silver. Alex Bermingham and Sam Ferkins (Poverty Bay) 40.03 claimed the bottom rung on the podium.

The North Shore club dominated the women’s U18 and U16 racning today with potential future star names Tara Vaughan and Greer Morley make a huge impact.

The pairing mounted the top of the medal podium in the U18 K2 500m before Vaughan held on to win a close fought battle in the K1 U18 200m to repel the late-charging Julia Padrutt (Waitara). 

Morley also revealed more of her rich promise in the U16 category as the rising star delivered a boat length victory in the K1 200m and also teamed up Abbey Smith to claim a commanding gold medal success in the K2 200m.

Thomas MacGibbon dominated the men’s U18 division to claim a memorable 200m treble.

The powerfully-built Arawa paddler defeated allcomers in the to harvest the K1 200m title, posting 40.00 to finish 0.63 clear of Daniel Brown (Hawkes Bay) for the victory.

He also secured K2 200m gold paddling alongside Alex Hickman and the duo also formed one half of Arawa victorious K4 200m crew.

Zane Mills-Nossiter was the star performer in the 200m events completing a golden triple with success in the K1, K2 and K4 events. 

The Whanganui paddler edged Logan Ferguson (Karapiro) in a close-fought battle in the K1 sprint event before later teaming up with Angus Sewell to take a narrow triumph in the K2 event from Karapiro. Earlier the Whaganui quartet containing Mills-Nossiter and Sewell captured the K4 200m event.

Poverty Bay have harvested a lot of success in the men’s U14 division and it continued today. Ollie Egan and Matt McKendry claimed gold medals for Poverty Bay in both the K2 and K4 200m – the latter achieved with the help of Ben Edwards and Tulson Sparrow. The men’s K1 200m honours went to Oscar Jarvis of Hawkes Bay.

The women’s U14 division served up two of the most dramatic races of the day with the K1 and K2 200m events serving up a pair of pulsating finals.

In a captivating K2 200m final the judges could not separate the Waitara crew of Poppy Barnes and Mia Padrutt and Poverty Bay duo Hannah Webb and Charlie Keepa as both crews were credited with a time of 53.28 and a share of the gold medal.

The K1 event was similarly exciting as Webb staved off the challenge of Barnes by a margin of just 0.10 to grab the gold medal.

The masters 45-54 K1 200m produced a crackerjack of a final as Matt Flannery (Mana) edged Ant Rowan of the Bay of Plenty club by just 0.02 to grab gold. 

Images: Georgia Schofield