Despite an arduous series of intercontinental flights fraught with inevitable complications the seven paddler strong South African team has arrived in Minsk ahead of the ICF Junior & U23 Canoe Sprint World Championships in Belarus from 28-31 July as the strongest age group team from the Rainbow Nation to challenge at the global showcase.
The team will be spearheaded by Under 23 star Louis Hattingh who has impressed on the national sprint scene recently when he picked up the senior Victor Ludorum award at the South African Canoe Sprint Championships in March highlighting his pedigree as a paddler to watch in this Olympic discipline.
For a number of the squad the trip to Minsk will be a first taste of international competition as they feel their way in the unforgiving world of sprint canoeing however Team Manager Craig Mustard believes that these early stepping stones are vital for the big leap into senior competition.
“I have a simple approach that one day if you want to be the best in the world you have to start early and be competitive in each age group that you race,” Mustard mentioned.
“For the team members that are at their first World Championships I have told them that it is vital that they enjoy the experience and take on as much as they can, both on and off the water.
“We really have a great squad of paddlers and I believe that they are of such a high standard that come Tokyo 2020 we will have a very strong Olympic team.”
The team has a spread of three Under 23 paddlers, which includes Hattingh, Kayla de Beer and late inclusion Nick Weeks, while the Under 18 age category is made up of four paddlers, former marathon world champion Jean van der Westhuyzen, Donna Hutton, Jarryd Gibson and Dylan Ceronio.
“I believe that this year’s team is the best prepared team that I have ever taken to a Junior World Championships and with star athletes like Louis (Hattingh), Jean (van der Westhuyzen), Donna (Hutton) and Kayla (de Beer) we could see them in a number of A Finals.
“It’s also encouraging with new comers Jarryd (Gibson), Nick (Weeks) and Dillion (Ceronio) that we are also getting more depth in sprint paddling,” Mustard added.
The hype of an international competition is not something that can be easily ignored however Mustard hopes that he is able to use his experience at international events to calm the debutants as well as keep the team from being caught up in the potential tensions of the event.
“My advice to the paddlers now is to relax and let all their hard work control the way they paddle as well as to try and avoid silly mistakes.
“For the new comers it is important to not get caught up in the bustle of a World Champs as well as the hype around the big countries that are normally seen to be the best.
“Their training at home has become world class so now our athletes are truly able to compete.
“The athletes must only worry about things they can control and things they can’t control must be left to us as administrators to sort out so they can focus entirely on their races,” Mustard concluded.
TEAM SOUTH AFRICA – ICF JUNIOR & U23 CANOE SPRINT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS Minsk, Belarus
Under 23: Louis Hattingh (1000m K1), Kayla de Beer (500/200m K1), Nick Weeks (200m K1)
Under 18: Jean van der Westhuyzen (1000m K1), Donna Hutton (200/500m K1), Jarryd Gibson (200m K1/K2), Dillion Ceronio (200m K2)