The cream of South African sprint canoeing fraternity will converge on the picturesque Shongweni Dam this weekend for a vitally important installment of the South African Canoe Sprint Championships from 7-9 April, as athletes with Olympic dreams aim to stake their claim in the national team.
The event is the pinnacle of sprint canoeing in South Africa with a number of the competitors hoping to impress and prove their worth as positions on the national team selected for the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Račice, Czech Republic are up for grabs.
“We have had a new generation coming to the front over the last few years and with paddlers such as Esti van Tonder, Louis Hattingh ,Donna Hutton and Jean van der Westhuyzen who have been making regular u23 A finals,” said chairman of the SA Sprints committee Craig Mustard.
“So as we start our new Olympic cycle towards Tokyo 2020 we will start to hear of these athletes a lot more as they are reaching the average Olympic paddling age, as in the past they have been too young.”
With the start of the next Olympic cycle, the focus shifts to the new generation of paddlers with a number of young paddlers shining on the world stage at the 2016 Junior and U23 World Championships. Mustard believes that this should lead to a stronger and larger South African squad at the Tokyo Olympics in three years’ time.
“We are aiming to have at slightly bigger team than in the past with the focus to have a number of team boats racing at the World Champs.
“Starting team-boat racing now in 2017 will hopefully mean come 2019 we will have a much stronger chance of qualifying more paddlers for Tokyo 2020,” he added.
The national championships will be missing a number of the young stars, who would have elected to focus purely on the National School’s championships later in the month, however Mustard believes that the quality of paddling will still be high.
“The senior field will be really competitive with all the main provinces being represented by their big names.
“Unfortunately we have seen a smaller junior field than in the past, this can be associated with SA Schools Sprint Champs being at the end of the month in the Western Cape so paddlers have had to choose their championships to limit traveling.
“Our junior numbers will also take a hit as the World Marathon Championships are in Pietermaritzburg later in the year.
“We have seen a few juniors and u23 paddlers focusing solely on this event due to the event being staged in South Africa,” Mustard highlighted.