Olympic gold medallists win but need to do better
13 March 2015
CANOE/KAYAK: Australia’s new-look K4 crew did enough to win gold at the National sprint canoe championships in Penrith, but they were far from happy with their performance.
Three of the four crew members – Murray Stewart, David Smith and Jacob Clear – were in the boat that won Olympic gold in London in 2014.
But their 2016 preparations were thrown into disarray when the fourth member of the crew, Tate Smith, failed a drugs test.
Beijing 500 metre gold medallist Ken Wallace joined the boat at the start of this year, but Smith says they are still a long way off being competitive.
“Internationally I think we are probably three to four seconds off the pace,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that race feels good. There’s a lot of untapped potential for us to experiement with and try and move forward with.
“We’ve got four gold medallists here. There’s too much potential here to say it can’t happen. It’s just a matter of getting enough time in the water to do it.”
The golden four were only 1.22 seconds ahead of the young silver medallist combined crew from NSW and QLD.
Stewart, who has been the dominant competitor at this week’s Australian championships, concedes the loss of Tate Smith has effected to crew.
“It goes without saying that Tate was a massive part of this crew,” he said.
“It was gut-wrenching for us, and still is. Luckily we do have a lot of depth in this country, so to be able to trade one gold medallist out and bring another one in is pretty lucky.
"But it’s not just as simple as subbing one person out and bringing another one in.”
Stewart added another gold medal to his collection this week when he teamed with Jacob Clear to win the K2 1000, beating World Championship silver medallists Wallace and Lachlan Tame.
It’s the second time Clear and Stewart have beaten Wallace and Tame in a month, posing a difficult question for the selectors.
On current form Stewart is the dominant male paddler in Australia, but it’s unlikely he would be able to compete in the K1, K2 and K4 1000 races at a World Championship or Olympic level.
“I think it would be a bit unrealistic,” Stewart said.
“You’re going to be lucky at that level to do one good race, you could do two – I think three would be a bit overreaching.”
In Friday's other Olympic event, Queensland’s Alyssa Bull and Alyce Burnett took advantage of the absence of Australia’s fastest pair, Jo Brigden-Jones and Naomi Flood, to win the women’s K2 500. The pair have been in great form all regatta and won the national title by a mere 0.26 seconds from K1 winner Alana Nicholls (WA) and Jamie Roberts (NSW).
Ross Solly for Australian Canoeing