Lisa Carrington has made a successful start to another new kayaking season, though the Olympic champion knows she can't let her standards slip with the quality of her fellow Kiwis coming through.
The 28-year-old completed the K1 200m-500m double at the Blue Lakes 2 regatta in Rotorua over the weekend, in her first hit-out after a four-medal haul at the world championships in August.
She was 1.09secs clear of under-23 world champion Aimee Fisher (Hawke's Bay) in the 200m and 1.60secs ahead of Caitlin Ryan (North Shore) in the K1 500m.
Carrington knows only too well the threat posed by Ryan - her K2 500m world championship-winning partner - and her K4 colleague Fisher but she was equally impressed with Waitara's Rebecca Cole, who was fourth in both races, and the likes of Kim Thompson (Poverty Bay), Britney Ford (Poverty Bay) and Mana's Danielle Watson, who were all right in the mix.
“The girls have been super-fast over the last few years anyway so there has been tight competition but there are three of us open women and the rest are all under-23,” says Carrington. “We've got a massive group of that age group coming through and where's their potential? Once they start training in a high-performance structure, they're going to get so much faster.”
Carrington admitted to nerves ahead of her two finals, after only being back in the boat for the past eight weeks, although she had full confidence in the training plan constantly refined by coach Gordon Walker.
She is also delighted to see the continued growth of the sport, with record numbers at the Blue Lakes regatta - which is also the first selection event of the season - as the sport builds towards February's national championships.
“When I was coming through at a similar age to these younger girls, there was barely anyone here and we'd have straight finals. We'd be sitting in our cars and there weren't many clubs - to see it now, it's huge and amazing and really cool. It just takes a little bit longer to get everyone up to speed, to get the numbers and retain the paddlers and you can want it to happen faster than it actually does but it's really noticeable now.
“It's really coming to fruition.”
Also coming to fruition is the developing men's programme, which is being rebuilt around an under-23 men's K4 of Karl McMurtrie, Kurtis Imrie, Ben Duffy and Taris Harker.
McMurtrie (North Shore) backed up from his Blue Lakes 1 win in the K1 200m by edging Imrie this weekend, clocking 36.90secs, 0.59secs ahead of Mana's Imrie, with Duffy (Arawa) third and Bay of Plenty's Harker fourth.
“It's all very well winning here but the aim of the game is the K4, so it's good that we're all so close,” says McMurtrie. “It doesn't really matter who wins as long as it's one of the four of us! I was pretty happy to get it but if we're all going fast, the big boat is going to go fast.”
Imrie took out the K1 1000m in 3mins 38.40, a second ahead of Arawa's Steven Armstrong, with Poverty Bay's Quaid Thompson third in 3:42.00.
Poverty Bay's women's crew pulled off a big win in the K4 200m, with Kim Thompson, Ford, Jamie Gedye and Courtney Hoskin half a second clear of the composite Waitara crew which featured Cole and Ryan, then ‘borrowed' Carrington to add the K4 500m title as well.
Arawa won the men's K4 500m, Carrington and Ryan comfortably won both K2 200m and 500m finals and Imrie and McMurtrie combined for victory in the men's K2 1000m.