Luuka Jones romped to her eighth K1 title at the NZCT New Zealand canoe slalom championships over the weekend, narrowly missing adding the C1 double as she eyes a busy year on the world stage.
With a Cyclone Cook-compressed schedule and record fields of paddlers, the two-day championships also included a clutch of young talent coming through on the Tarawera River in Kawerau.
However, none could touch Olympic silver medalist Jones in the K1 final.
The 28-year-old clocked 84.61secs in the final, with Jane Nicholas 6secs back and another Tauranga paddler, 18-year-old schoolgirl Claudia Paterson, breaking through for her first open podium spot in 105.34.
Jones has added the C1 class to her arsenal this year and was cruising through that final too, before the nose of her boat hit a gate late in her run and she incurred a 50sec time penalty.
“It was a bit unfortunate but I've been really happy with my C1 times over the weekend,” she says. “Things are progressing and I've actually improved a lot more than I thought I would.”
Amid a busy weekend, Jones also paired with rising men's paddler Callum Gilbert to win the mixed C2 final, which gave her a glimpse of how her season is going to look when she leaves for the ICF world cup series in Europe later this month.
“I was pretty busy and seemed to be running around lots over the weekend but it's not just a physical thing, it's the mental challenge of turning up and having to think about the course from two different perspectives. I'm really excited about racing two classes this year.”
Gilbert, meanwhile, came out on top in the showdown between the three men representing New Zealand in Europe this year, edging Alexandra's Finn Butcher and Olympian Mike Dawson in the K1 final.
The 20-year-old was 1.65secs clear of Butcher, despite picking up a 2sec touch, with Dawson third in 78.59. It's his second national K1 title, although Dawson was preparing for the Olympics and didn't race when he won his first last year.
“New Zealand's got a few good K1 men now so it was always going to be a hard final but I was pretty happy to do my best run of the weekend there,” he says. “It's always good to get a good result when you've got the full competition there and it was really good for Mike to be here.”
Tauranga Boys' College star Damian Torwick showed his potential by finishing fourth in the men's final, after dominating last week's national secondary school competition, finishing 11.36secs behind Gilbert.
Auckland schoolteacher Kelly Travers profited from Jones' C1 lapse by winning the women's C1 crown, with Nicholas also finishing second in that final, while Patrick Washer edged Gilbert in a highly competitive men's C1 final, with Ben Gibb third.
Results – Women
K1: Luuka Jones (Tauranga) 84.61secs 1, Jane Nicholas (Tauranga) 90.69 2, Claudia Paterson (Tauranga) 105.34 3, Kensa Randle (Otago) 109.19 4, Casey Hales (Hawke's Bay) 114.53 5.
C1: Kelly Travers (Auckland) 104.92 1, Jane Nicholas (Tauranga) 109.26 2, Hayee Dangen (Tauranga) 119.84 3, Madison Wilson (Australia) 125.09 4, Luuka Jones (Tauranga) 142.78 5.
Results – Men
K1: Callum Gilbert (Tauranga) 74.84 1, Finn Butcher (Alexandra) 76.49 2, Mike Dawson (Okere Falls) 78.59 3, Damian Torwick (Tauranga) 86.20 4, Callum Gibb (Tauranga) 86.59 5.
C1: Patrick Washer (Tauranga) 86.69 1, Callum Gilbert (Tauranga) 87.59 2, Ben Gibb (Tauranga) 89.42 3, Shaun Higgins (Tauranga) 90.41 4, James Thwaite (Tauranga) 97.42 5.
C2: Damian Torwick/Jack Saies 176.17 1, Lewis Hall/Stewart Bloor 195.30 2, Finn Anderson/Oliver Puchner 246.38 3, Aden Cassaidy/Jared Williams 363.15 4, Josh Scarlet/Fraser Hart 484.60 5.
Mixed C2: Callum Gilbert/Luuka Jones 172.00 1, Claudia Paterson/Alex Hawthorne 192.23 2, Courtney Williams/Finn Butcher 242.50 3, Lotte Rayner/Miro Matejka 337.47 4.