Olympians Show Form at Australian Sprint Nationals

Two-time Olympian Murray Stewart is still undecided about whether he’ll try and qualify for Tokyo in 2020, but showed he is still in fine form by winning a third consecutive men’s K1 1000 Australian sprint canoe title in Penrith on Monday.

By contrast young guns Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull are very determined to compete in Tokyo, after making the final of the K2 500 on their Olympic debut last year.

The pair won their second consecutive national title on Monday, while Jordan Wood and Riley Fitzsimmons, members of last year’s Rio K4 1000 team, won their first K2 1000 title.

Other winners included Paralympic gold medallist, Curtis McGrath, and silver medallist, Amanda Reynolds.

Stewart finished fourth in the K1 1000 in Rio, and has since become a father for the first time.

“Motivation has been quite hard I suppose,” Stewart said.

“I’ve had a big change, with the baby, it’s definitely been a good distraction. I paddle now because I enjoy it, not because I have a specific goal in mind I guess.

“At the moment I’m not committed beyond each training session. I retire about twice a week! I wouldn’t rule Tokyo out, but I’m definitely not going to commit now.”

Burnett and Bull burst into the spotlight 12 months ago when they upstaged their more experienced opponents to qualify for Rio.

“It’s been a massive whirlwind, our lives have changed for sure,” Burnett said.

“We were so stoked with our performance in Rio, our semi-final was definitely the best race we’ve ever had.

“I think we’ve got a good group of girls around us now pushing us on.”

Wood and Fitzsimmons took advantage of the absence of Olympic bronze medallists, Ken Wallace and Lachlan Tame, to grab their first K2 1000 senior title.

Wallace is nursing a back injury, but Wood and Fitzsimmons have had a difficult lead-up as well.

“We haven’t had an ideal preparation,” Fitzsimmons said.

“Woody has been sick, and I haven’t been training with the boys and getting the team time I should have had. I think things will start heating up now though.

“We love spending time in this boat. I feel like we feed off each other really well. We have two different styles of paddling, and it works well together.”

Wood and Fitzsimmons will head off later this year to try and defend their U23 World K2 1000 title.

While nearly all of the Olympians and Paralympians took a big break after Rio, Reynolds spent very little time out of the water.

“I had a little bit of time off, but I think once you have a plan and some goals you just keep going,” she said.

“I’m back in Melbourne at the moment, but I’ve been bouncing from State-to-State doing training. Tokyo is definitely on my radar, but we’ll continue to take it year by year.”

 “It’s been a bit of a struggle since the start of the year with other commitments,” McGrath said.

“I felt pretty good considering I haven’t been doing as much training as I did last year. But I’m happy with that race, although I’d like to be a little bit fitter.”

In other results on Monday, Sebastian Marczak won the men’s C1 200, while Josie Bulmer won the women’s C1 200.

The Australian Nationals continues all week at the Sydney International Regatta Centre in Penrith.

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