Whilst it was a cold and windy day at Nottingham’s National Water Sports Centre for the opening day of the British Canoe Sprint Olympic selection trails, there was some hotly contested racing across all five events on the programme.

For the athletes involved, it was an opportunity to stake their claim for an entry to the final Olympic qualification event in Duisburg next month and for others, the chance to confirm their place in the boats already assured of being on the Rio start line.

Amongst the highlights of the morning was the women’s K1 500m, with Rachel Cawthorn taking the win in both her heat and the A Final, over a competitive field of ten.

Having had a challenging start to the season, Rachel has battled back to fitness, from a debilitating period of viral fatigue and with a strong performance that saw her lead the race for most of the way, she now looks set to go to her second Olympic Games.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet said”, an overwhelmed Rachel. “It has been such a tough year. I missed so much training from the autumn through to January and then I started training by myself most of the time and I have had such a great little support group, but I didn’t know how it was going to go today.

“It wasn’t ideal racing conditions and I was a bit disappointed as you think you are starting to get really fast, and it is a shame not to be able to do that. We train hard and love going fast, but I also paddle well in rough conditions and I just had to turn that to my advantage and hold it together all the way through.

It was such a high standard across the board (in the K1 500m), the only event with heats and when I saw the draw and that it was only three to definitely go through to the A Final I knew it would be tough. There were a lot of fast girls out there and to have two races not too far apart was an extra challenge thrown in.

“I’ve hardly let myself think about Rio. I have just been trying to get to this point, but hopefully that’s now my spot (K4) secured. It’s been my goal all year but you can’t quite let yourself imagine it until you are in this position," finished Cawthorn.

Closing in on Rachel over the last 50m were K4 crewmates from last year’s World Championships in Milan where they qualified the boat for Rio, Louisa Gurski and Jess Walker.

Louisa was also delighted with her performance. “The first race of the season is so important to show how your winter training has gone and to put down a good performance. It also proves to yourself that it was worth getting up every day when it was cold and dark.

“It was a straight head wind which made it fair for everyone rather than a cross wind. I prefer to go into a head wind as I am more an endurance based athlete, which makes the course a bit longer. You can’t change the weather or what lane you are in you just have to go out there and do it. I didn’t really know where I was, I just kept going for it all the way to the line. My coach Miklos always says the race doesn’t start until you are 200m from the finish line and I just picked things up and went for it.

"All the girls are within a couple of seconds of each other which makes the squad for the K4 even stronger. It was nice to see that we are tight knit and all going fast going into second round qualification and the World Cups," concluded Gurski.

In the men’s K1 1000m it was Jon Boyton who dominated his final to grasp the opportunity to compete for an Olympic quota place in Duisburg in four weeks-time. “I am very pleased”, said Jon. “It is one step of the two-step process to qualify for the Games. It is always nice to get these things out of the way.

“The conditions were quite difficult and it was a long race, about four minutes, which suited me. Obviously there was a lot of pressure going into this. I came into the race as the favourite and I was expected to deliver. There was very good racing from both Tom (Lusty) and Magnus (Gregory), so they were pushing me really hard all the way down. But I managed to pull out a lead about half way and extended it down the last 250m.

Jon Boyton commented, "I am now focused on second round qualification and trying to get everything perfect for that, where I have to finish in the top two in order to qualify my place for Rio."

In the men’s C1 1000m James Styan beat Joe Jones (Fladbury) and went on to team up with Joe to win the C2 1000m against Ian Weir and Joe Hayman Joyce.

The other closely contested final of day 1 was in the men’s K2 1000m, where it took a photo finish to separate Matt Bowley / Ed Rutherford, from the Longridge duo of Luke Harding and Magnus Gregory, with only 0.03 seconds the winning margin.

Day two will feature the men’s and women’s 200m events, including Olympic Champions Ed McKeever and 2012 bronze medallists Liam Heath and Jon Schofield along with the women’s K2 500m.

Following the two days of selection trials the British Canoeing International Panel will confirm the team to compete at the second round European Continental Olympic Qualification event in Duisburg 18-19 May. Athletes will also be selected to compete in the ICF World Cups 1 and 2 before the final team is nominated to the British Olympic Association for approval. It is anticipated that the Canoe Sprint athletes to represent Team GB at Rio 2016 will be announced on Tuesday 14 June 2016.

Canoe Sprint