Jones jubilant after last-gasp win

Luuka Jones waited four long days, ironically until her least favoured event, before climbing to the top of the podium at the Whitewater XL kayaking event in Auckland.

The Rio Olympic canoe slalom silver medalist took out the boatercross final at the Vector Wero Whitewater Park today, after a series of frustrating finishes in her K1 and C1 finals.

It capped a huge week for the sport, with the $60,000 event the biggest kayaking championship ever staged in New Zealand, and Jones was delighted to share in the spoils.

“I saved it to the last day of the competition but I was really fired up,” Jones said. “The boatercross is the event that I’m least likely to win and I was even a little bit scared but after a couple of runs, my anaerobic strength came through and I could get the speed off the start.”

That speed took her to an early lead in the four-boat final, holding off Dutch paddler Martina Wegman, top Frenchwoman Nouria Newman and world extreme champion Sandra Hyslop (Great Britain).

Newman had some consolation, crowned overall women’s K1 champion for the event, with Australia’s Rosalyn Lawrence second and Jones third.

German Stefan Hengst also got off to a great start in the men’s final, powering off the 5m start ramp and edging clear of Czech Republic star Vavra Hradilek and Kiwis Mike Dawson and surprise finalist Carl Whitehead.

“It was pretty hard racing guys like Vavra and Mike and I was a bit nervous at the start because they’re so strong and can go so fast,” 22-year-old Hengst said. “I was stoked to be in front at the start and hold it, while they were fighting each other for position.  I could just pick my own lines.”

The result pulled him into second-place overall in the men’s K1 overall standings, sandwiched between two more Czech paddlers, winner Ondrej Tunka and third-placed Vit Prindis.

German Franz Anton won the overall C1 title, ahead of Matej Benus (Slovakia) and France’s Cedric Holy, while Lawrence led an all-Australian C1 women’s podium, with Noemie Fox and Kate Eckhardt second and third.

Jones was ecstatic with the inaugural event’s success and has high hopes for next year.

“Everyone who’s come out has absolutely loved it.  They’re all posting on social media and everyone who didn’t come is getting massive FOMO (fear of missing out)!  Friends have been messaging me from overseas saying how gutted they are not to be here and they’re all fired up to come out next year.”

Whitewater XL Boatercross results:

Women: Luuka Jones (New Zealand) 1, Martina Wegman (Netherlands) 2, Nouria Newman (France) 3, Sandra Hyslop (Great Britain) 4.
Men: Stefan Hengst (Germany) 1, Vavra Hradilek (Czech Republic) 2, Mike Dawson (New Zealand) 3, Carl Whitehead (New Zealand) 4.

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