Czech paddlers dominate NZ Open

Czech paddler Ondrej Tunka returns to New Zealand for the first time since winning the Whitewater XL title in Auckland in 2016 for this weekend's New Zealand Open in the Manawatu. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media

Czech kayakers Ondrej Tunka and Katerina Kudejova proved too strong at canoe slalom’s New Zealand Open, while the national selection battle heated up on the Mangahao River near Palmerston North.

Tunka, the reigning K1 men’s world champion, had a clear 89.62sec run in today’s final to take the win from young Austrian star Matthias Weger. 

Although Weger touched a gate and picked up a 2sec penalty, he was still 2.51secs behind Tunka, with Australian Lucien Delfour third another 0.14secs further adrift.

Kudejova, the 2015 world champion, wasn’t quite as dominant in the women’s K1 final, with her 99.04sec time just 0.26secs ahead of France’s Camille Prigent and 0.72secs in front of third-placed Kiwi Luuka Jones. 

Jones took out the women’s C1 final, however, warming up for next weekend’s Oceania championships in style.

Her 109.69sec time was more than 16secs in front of Hannah Thomas (Great Britain) with Australia’s Demelza Wall third.

“I haven’t done much race preparation so it’s nice to be doing some racing again,” says Jones.

"I’m happy with the weekend overall - my K1 was solid on a tricky course and I was really happy with my C1, where I paddled pretty well, so I’m looking forward to next weekend.”

Both Jones and fellow Olympian Mike Dawson are exempt from selection battles, courtesy of their world championship results last year, but below them, the battle for the two remaining K1 spots in the national team went up a notch.

Tauranga’s Jack Dangen was the fastest qualifier on Saturday and followed that with a 10th in today’s final, while fellow Bay of Plenty local Callum Gilbert posted a fifth and a seventh over the two days.

Alexandra’s Finn Butcher, meanwhile, picked up a third in qualifying yesterday and followed it up as the leading Kiwi, in sixth, in Sunday’s final.

“It was a bit touch and go in the semifinal with four touches but I managed to scrape through,” says Butcher.

“The first weekend of selection is always a bit stressful so it was good to get it done. The final run was pretty good really - I had nothing to lose after qualifying in 10th so decided to give it a bit more.”

Patrick Washer won yesterday’s men’s C1 crown, meanwhile, edging another Czech paddler Lukas Rohan in the final by just 0.01secs, after Rohan picked up a touch.

Ben Gibb was third, ahead of fellow Kiwis James Thwaite and Dawson, who missed the K1 final after a barrage of touches but showed his versatility in the canoe class.

Next weekend’s Oceania championships will see a big contingent of Australian paddlers competing, including reigning K1 world champion and former C1 world champion Jess Fox.

See full results here: http://www.slalomnz.org.nz/asset/downloadasset?id=1df6c46a-dc4d-4d56-8a7b-c013016275cc

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