New Zealand sprint kayakers comfortable with Rio chop

It's caused havoc with the rowers but New Zealand's canoe sprinters aren't worried about the Rio de Janeiro weather ahead of their Olympic race campaign.

World champion Lisa Carrington and fellow K1 paddler Marty McDowell will hit the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon first on Monday night (NZ time), followed by the women's K4 of Jaimee Lovett, Kayla Imrie, Aimee Fisher and Caitlin Ryan later in the week.

The lagoon has been the centre of mayhem in the rowing, with a number of crews sinking and the wind and chop causing two days of postponements and scheduling congestion.  All six Kiwi kayakers, however, have cut their teeth in those conditions, on beaches around New Zealand.

"All of us in the New Zealand team come from a surf lifesaving background, so we're well used to using those stabilising muscles in the surf!" McDowell said.  "We've been watching the conditions at the rowing with interest but we're not too fazed to see a bit of wind and chop. There's definitely some excitement building though and we're all looking forward to getting out and racing."

McDowell is a three-time New Zealand surf ski champion in surf lifesaving but this will his first Olympics at the age of 29.  He and Carrington were the first to arrive in Rio, after training camps in Portugal and Spain, while the K4 will arrive from Portugal tomorrow.

Like McDowell, the K4 crew will make their Olympic debut.  It's also the first time a women's K4 has represented New Zealand at that level, with Richard Boyle, Finn O'Connor, Stephen Richards, and Mark Scheib the last men's crew to take part in 1992.

Lovett, Imrie, Fisher and Ryan have been together for the last 18 months, working with national women's coach Rene Olsen, and have made dramatic strides on the world stage with significant funding from High Performance Sport New Zealand.

The crew finished fifth and third in the two K4 500m ICF World Cup series rounds they completed this season and since then, have changed up the order in the boat, with Imrie moving to the No 2 seat and Ryan moving to the engine room at the back.

Carrington, meanwhile, is the world champion in the K1 200m and the K1 500m, as well as defending Olympic champion in the shorter distance. While Hungary's Danuta Kozák - who won K1 500m gold in London in 2012 - leads an imposing number of rivals in the longer distance, Carrington's dominance in the 200m only seems to be growing.  Her victory in the ICF World Cup series round in Portugal in May was her 13th consecutive major title over the distance.

The prospect of repeating the double at Rio is daunting but one Carrington believes she needs to keep progressing.

"I always knew that doing the 200 and 500m events is hard and I'm pretty lucky I have such a challenge with the other competitors and the 500m being such a tough event," Carrington said.  "I'm just really happy to be challenged and having that carrot on the end of the stick, trying to chase something and just looking forward, always on the attack, trying to work harder.  That's all you can ask for, that type of motivation."

Canoe Racing New Zealand boss Mark Weatherall said the six-strong team were ideal role-models for the next generation of paddlers aiming for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, with several eye-catching performances at the recent world junior championships boding well.

"Without including the results next week, our Olympic campaign has already been a success, as Lisa, Marty, Jaimee, Kayla, Aimee and Caitlin have given a graphic example to the next generation of what hard work and focus can achieve," Weatherall said. "We're also developing some fantastic relationships with High Performance Sport New Zealand and tapping into their innovation and knowledge, which will set us up for the next four-year cycle.

Canoe racing is one of New Zealand's most successful Olympic sports, with six gold medals, two silvers and a bronze.  The four golds won by Ian Ferguson, Paul MacDonald, Alan Thompson and Grant Bramwell in Los Angeles in 1984 remains the largest haul by New Zealand sport at a single Games.

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