Abuja, Nigeria – The South African canoeing team emerged from a “tough” week at the African Championships in Nigeria with four athletes in two K2 boats securing Olympic qualifying places, while nine gold medals gave South Africa top spot on the medal table.
The men’s and women’s K2 500m crews of Chrisjan Coetzee and Nicholas Weeks, and Esti Olivier and Helen Jansen van Vuuren respectively emerged as African champions in Olympic qualifying events held on Jabi Lake in Abuja, Nigeria, over the weekend, and in doing so secured all four available places for South African athletes in Paris.
However, there was more to celebrate as the small team of five kayakers also dominated the non-Olympic events to end the championships with nine golds. That was good enough to top the medal table despite South Africa entering only kayaks and thus no “C” boats or Para canoeists into the championships.
Coetzee and Weeks won the 500m K2 men’s event with Olivier and Jansen van Vuuren doing the same in the women’s 500m, confirming four seats on the South African Olympic team’s flight to Paris next year.
Included in the other wins for the team was a 500m K1 victory for Olivier which would also have been good enough for an Olympic place had the two K2 spots not filled the quota of four places available for the South African squad.
Callam Davis ensured all five members of the team returned with gold medals when he won the 200m K1, although that was not an Olympic qualifying event.
Canoeing South Africa President Kim Pople was ecstatic with the results.
“At Canoeing South Africa we are so excited to have qualified two men and two women athletes for the Paris Olympics at the African Championships and Paris 2024 Continental Olympic Qualifier.
“Now the focus switches to the selection process and who will be in those boats. The selection event will take place sometime in March at VLC in Johannesburg and the sprint committee will then be selecting the team that will go to Paris.
“With four paddlers going to Paris, it will be our biggest team since 2008 that we will be sending to the Olympics for sprinting. Hopefully this is just the spark that is going to re-ignite the sprint discipline back to its rightful place in South Africa.
“From myself to the five athletes that were at the qualifiers for South Africa, I just salute them. It was not easy. There was a lot of “off the water stuff” going on, so I am just really, really proud that we stuck to the job they had to do.
“We stuck together as a team and looked after each other,” said Pople, before adding that the team can now take some time off to “celebrate what is a massive achievement for South African canoeing.”