Fox, Smolen complete slalom wins
Kiwi Olympians Mike Dawson and Luuka Jones both rolled in their respective finals on the tough Vector Wero Whitewater Park course, ruining their chances of challenging for a title.
Instead, Australian Jess Fox continued her imperious form, winning the women’s C1 final by an astounding 13secs, while American Michal Smolen snatched the men’s K1 title from Olympic champion Joe Clarke (Great Britain) in a thrilling final.
New Zealand’s best performances, meanwhile, came from Callum Gilbert and Finn Butcher, who finished fourth and sixth in a world-class men’s K1 field.
“I had quite a rough semifinal and needed to fix a few things in the final but ended up having a really good run, just from top to bottom,” Smolen said.
His time of 86.17secs was 1.83secs faster than Clarke, although the Englishman did have the satisfaction of clocking the fastest time of the day, 86.02 in the semifinal.
Australian Lucien Delfour was third, just ahead of Gilbert (91.32), with world No 3 Mathieu Biazizzo sandwiched in fifth between Gilbert and Butcher.
“I was pretty solid on the way down and everything was pretty close to what I wanted to do,” Gilbert said. “I’ve been focussing on consistency for the last year and it’s good to see it coming into play in these selection races, plus it’s wicked to race on a world-class course with a world-class field.”
Butcher’s raw time of 87.92 was the third-fastest of the final but three touches dropped him back, while Dawson made an early mistake but then came storming back, only to roll in a hole after gate 17 and collect two touches.
Jones, meanwhile, found the C1 final a step too far after a torrid week of racing and illness. She missed the eighth gate entirely, then rolled halfway down.
“I hit gate 1, which could’ve made it a bad start, but I think it actually fired me up and made me attack it a bit more, because I knew I had that 2sec time penalty,” the reigning world champion said. “I was really happy with the run after that and I executed the plan that I had in my head.”
Fellow Aussie Roslyn Lawrence was second, 13.07secs distant, with Kate Eckhardt and Fox’s younger sister Noemie completing at Australian clean sweep of the first four spots. Kelly Travers was the best New Zealander in eighth.
The next big event on the canoe slalom calander is the Australian Open in Penrith later in February, with Fox fired up for a big performance on home water after winning both K1 and C1 titles this weekend.
“For me, the job’s done - that was part of our selection series and winning here got me on the Australian team in both C1 and K1, so now I can let loose and attack at the Australian Open.”