Junior/ U23s on the rise

Last week saw the Junior & U23 canoe slalom World Championships wrap up in Wausau, Wisconsin, USA with the Czech Republic taking home 13 medals, followed by Australia and then France in the medal standings. Both the Czechs and Australian’s finished with 4 golds each. Today’s post looks at these Junior & U23 World’s as well as previous World’s to see what this can tell us about the prospects at Lee Valley starting in just over a week as well as future Olympics.

Three of the paddlers from this month’s Junior & U23 World’s are amongst the athletes competing at London2012. They are Jessica Fox(Australia), Casey Eichfeld (USA) and Caroline Queen (USA). These youngsters should not be discounted, Jessica Fox, now 18, was the Girls Youth Olympic K1 slalom champion in 2010, is double Junior K1W canoe slalom World Champion and has just been described by the ICF as “the most successful paddler at the [Wausau] championships”, winning 3 gold’s (K1W, C1W and C1Team), 22 year old Casey Eichfeld returns for his second Olympic Games, and although Caroline Queen is looking for her first podium finish at top level international canoe slalom she became the youngest woman to make the US Slalom National team at age 15.


Jessica Fox, 18, on the podium at the Cardiff World Cup race. Now Junior K1W and C1 champion (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

I took a quick scan through the previous World’s results and UK Slalom Yearbooks. Of the British Olympic canoe slalom medallists: Gareth Marriott won Junior World’s in 1987; Paul Ratcliffe won Junior Pre-World’s in 1991 and Helen Reeves won Junior World’s in 1996. See a pattern? Lizzie Neave won a bronze team medal at the Junior World’s in 2004.

Lizzie Neave, 25, representing Great Britain at her first Olympics. K1W J14 champion when Paul Ratcliffe was winning Silver in Sydney (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

When Paul Ratcliffe was winning silver in Sydney, Lizzie Neave was already competing in Division 1 in the UK becoming K1W Junior under 14 championship winner  and then by 2005, still as a junior (J18), she won the first of her three British National Championships. Similarly Richard Hounslow was the K1M Junior under 14 champion in 1995. So what is a good age to start? Well back in 2001 I did an interview for Canoe Kayak UK magazine with Janine Dickie who at the time had become the youngest paddler ever to reach Divison 1 at just 11 years of age! As suggested before Olympic Champion Tony Estanguet talks about starting to paddle at the age of 5 and by age 16, Michal Martikan had already won his first Senior World Champion medal.

This suggests that the current Junior World athletes are those from whom to expect Olympic medals in 5-10 years, so Rio in 2016, and then in either Istanbul, Tokyo or Madrid in 2020. Look out for the following winners from this year’s Junior World’s: KIW/C1W Jessica Fox (Australia); C1M Cedric Joly (France) and C2 Pavol Kavolkov & Artem Bogdanov (Russia). The most successful nations at Olympic canoe slalom competition so far are; France (14 medals – 4 gold), Slovakia (10 medals – 7 gold), Germany (9 medals – 4 gold), Czech Republic (7 medals – 2 gold) and Great Britain (5 medals – 4 silver & 1 bronze). Interesting to see that above France and Czech Republic are still strong.

Tomorrow’s post will give some practical tips to getting to Lee Valley and what to expect at this stunning new whitewater canoe slalom venue. Comments are welcome here or @gregiej on Twitter.

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