Kiwi kayaker Mike Dawson has capped a successful canoe slalom world championship in style, grabbing bronze in the event-ending extreme slalom final in Pau, France, overnight.
The 30-year-old battled through five rounds of intense head-to-head racing, eventually finishing behind 2012 Olympic K1 silver medallist Vavrinec Hradilek (Czech Republic) and Frenchman Boris Neveu in the four-boat final.
It was the ideal way to end an incredible world championship for the boutique 10-strong New Zealand team, after Dawson (seventh) and Luuka Jones (fourth) had both made their respective finals in the K1 slalom, leaving Dawson buzzing.
“All the dreams came true - it's just a wicked end to an amazing world championships here in Pau,” says Dawson.
“To stand up there with Vavra and Boris - guys that I've raced together with for so many years - and share a podium at the world champs with them was insane.”
It's the first time extreme slalom - which features four paddlers racing together in plastic boats down a modified slalom course - has been held at the world championships and it's an event nearly tailor-made for Dawson.
He's spent 13 years competing overseas, using the thrills and prizemoney from extreme racing to bolster his Olympic canoe slalom campaign.
There's now talk the sport's governing body - the International Canoe Federation (ICF) - may push to include it in future Olympics.
“After a lot of work with the ICF, it's awesome to see extreme slalom as a recognised event.
"We've had World Cups with it but this was the first world championship and it was an amazing presentation of what white water kayaking is all about.
"It's just going to keep growing and growing and to hear officials say it could be an Olympic discipline in the future is really exciting stuff.”
After 10 world championships since his first in 2005 and two Olympics, it's also exciting for Dawson to see the depth in the sport in New Zealand growing.
Boris Neveu (France), Vavrinec Hradilek (Czech Republic) and New Zealand's Mike Dawson on the podium at the canoe slalom world championships. Photo by Balint Vekassy/www.canoephoto.com
“It's just going from strength to strength, with Luuka winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games last year, to have two finalists here in the canoe slalom events and to come away with a medal in the extreme slalom shows that we're in such a wicked place.
"The support and backing we've had from High Performance Sport New Zealand is doing wonders and it's created an amazing team and given us the opportunity to deliver what we can on the world stage.
"We've got amazing juniors coming through who performed exceptionally at the junior worlds this year and have the likes of Finn Butcher and Callum Gilbert who came so close to making the semifinals here. We're contenders and we're now able to compete with the best in the world.”