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Report: U23 and Junior World Championships in Italy’s Auronzo

The canoeing world recently witnessed a remarkable event at the stunning regatta course in the Italian Alps. With its breathtaking scenery, anyone attending the World Championships would have been left in awe. The Richmond Canoe Club (RCC) had the privilege of sending five talented individuals, Arthur, Dylan, Nelson, Shirav, and Owen, to represent Team GB, along with myself as their team coach. This achievement marked the highest number of junior/U23 paddlers from our club to be selected for a World Championship, showcasing the strength and depth of our organization in the country.

Our team had a fantastic showing at the event, contributing significantly to Team GB’s success. We brought home four medals, reached six A finals, achieved numerous B finals, and secured several top 10 positions. As the RCC, we proudly contributed one medal, one A final, two B finals, and two top 12 finishes to the overall results.

Dylan, an outstanding athlete, competed in three challenging events: K-1 500m, K-2 500m, and mixed K-2 500m. Despite his impressive form and multiple national champion titles, we were unsure of what to expect at the World level. Dylan stood out as one of the bigger participants among the UK junior field, but upon observing the competition, I couldn’t help but feel like we were in an Arnold competition, surrounded by the physically imposing juniors from dominant canoeing nations.

Dylan faced an intense schedule, competing in 9x500m races throughout the week across his three events, against exceptionally high-level competition. In the K-2 500m event, he partnered with Haydn. Although they weren’t the largest crew, their partnership proved to be exceptional, complementing each other perfectly. Despite narrowly missing the A final, finishing fourth in the semifinals, they clinched third place in the B final, securing an overall 12th position out of 45 boats. While leading at the 300m mark, they couldn’t maintain the pace in the final stretch, conceding the third spot. However, they will have another opportunity at the upcoming European Championships to vie for an A final.

Dylan’s remarkable success came in the K-1 500m event, where he secured a spot in the A final and finished seventh among 43 competitors from various nations. Making it to the Final A in the K-1 event is a rarity for junior boys in recent years, which emphasizes the significance of Dylan’s achievement. Despite starting next to the Polish winner, who would have medaled in the U23 category as well, Dylan couldn’t execute his signature late push in the last 150m. Nevertheless, considering the caliber of competition, both Dylan and I would have gladly accepted this K-1 result before the World Championship.

Dylan’s third event, the mixed K-2 500m, proved to be our greatest success, as it marked our long-awaited sprint World medal. Dylan partnered with Scottish athlete Kristina, and their potential was evident from the start, clocking a faster time than our U23 crew in the heats. Although they were outpaced by the Hungarians in the heats, they comfortably won the semifinals, setting the stage for an exhilarating final. The tension was palpable as several crews vied for the top spots. Dylan and Kristina picked up their pace alongside the Italians, leaving behind the Hungarians, Spanish, and Serbians, and crossed the finish line in third place. It was an extraordinary moment, filled with joy and relief. Dylan’s international season is far from over, as he will be competing with Haydn and Nelson in the K-2 event at the European Championships in three weeks’ time. If he secures a medal, he has agreed to shave his head, so keep an eye out for Dylan and inquire about the pact and the razor date.

Nelson and Shirav formed part of the junior K-4 boys crew. They were the sole representatives from Team GB in this category, as our U23s and girls’ junior K-4 teams failed to qualify at the national level. Given the focus of top athletes like Dylan and Haydn on other events and the younger and less experienced nature of our crew (consisting mainly of U17 athletes), we knew that our Team GB K-4 wouldn’t be among the fastest. Moreover, the physical disparity between our boys and those from top nations was significant. Nevertheless, they defied expectations and made it to the B final, securing an impressive 17th place overall. This accomplishment provided invaluable experience for their future endeavors. Unfortunately, Dylan’s busy schedule prevented him from committing to a K-4 event. Nonetheless, Nelson and Shirav have undoubtedly created lasting memories from this World Championship, propelling them towards future success.

Owen, competing in the C-1 5K event, had to wait patiently throughout the week for his race, which took place on the final day. Despite the delay, he remained supportive and helpful to his Richmond teammates. Owen, an U17 athlete, raced against the U18 field and possessed prior international experience in marathon and sprint events from the Olympic Hopes competition. The junior canoe class race was notably stronger than any international marathon event, with more nations participating and fielding their best canoe athletes. In this fiercely contested race featuring 20 boats, Owen started slower but made a remarkable comeback, overtaking his competitors with precise turns, portages, and a steady pace. We could always spot his distinctive hairstyle bobbing up and down, gradually closing in on the leading groups. Eventually, he climbed his way to the top 10 and finished in 9th place overall. Owen’s performance exceeded expectations and served as a personal highlight of the World Championship for me. It was also an emotional moment as Owen had not been selected for the marathon Euro competition the following week, but we successfully appealed against the decision. Our victory in the appeal demonstrated our capability on the water, proving our worth against our peers and dispelling any doubts raised through data and irrelevant comparisons with girls’ kayaks.

Owen was thrilled with his performance and now believes in his ability to compete well internationally in the C-1 category against top nations next year. He will also join forces with Areg in the C-2 event at the European Championships in three weeks.

Arthur, the only U23 representative from our club at the World Championship, competed in the C-1 5K race. It was heartening to witness Arthur mentor Owen and take care of him while I focused on the other athletes. Unfortunately, the race didn’t unfold as we had hoped, and everything seemed to go wrong for Arthur. From starting in the wrong direction to being involved in a collision and even his boat filling with water due to an incident at the pontoon, misfortune plagued his performance. Ultimately, he finished in 16th place, far from his true potential. Despite facing numerous setbacks, Arthur displayed exceptional character by refraining from complaints. As Arthur transitions to the senior category next season, we sincerely hope he continues to compete and contribute to the growth of canoeing while remaining part of our club.

In conclusion, the hard work of our athletes and coaches at the Richmond Canoe Club paid off, solidifying our position as one of the leading clubs in the country!

Report written by team coach Gabor Szeltner.