The first of three steps to qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing begins today on Lake Lanier for Canada’s top canoe and kayak athletes.
In the past two years leading up to the Canadian Olympic Trials, Lanier Canoe and Kayak Center has hosted the country’s first set of qualifying trials for world championship teams and world cup teams.
“They love coming here,” Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club coach Dave Robertson said of the Canadian paddlers participating in today and Sunday’s Canadian Olympic Trials. “The race course is fantastic and the hospitality in the community is really great.”
Event winners from this weekend advance to the Continental Olympic Qualifier in Montreal where they must earn the Canadian berth at Beijing by winning their race or finishing as the fastest boat not already qualified for the Olympics.
Then they’ll need to finish as the top Canadian at one of two World Cup events, one in Hungary and one in Germany, to lock up their spot as the Canadian entrant into the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
“It’s pretty amazing to do this,” Robertson said. “To be able to open up the venue and facility to any country to come here and put on a big event is great, but this is Canada’s most important event of the last four years and to be the host organizing committee for that is pretty exciting.
“These athletes are at their pinnacle on their way to those Olympic Games in Beijing and to be a part of it is a pretty fantastic feeling.”
Today’s scheduled races include the men’s 1000-meter and women’s 500-meter one-person kayak heats and finals as well as the men’s 1000-meter one-person canoe and 1000-meter two-person canoe and kayak heats and finals.
Andrew Russell and partner Beauchesne-Sevigny have esteblished themselves as one of the top tandems in the two-person canoe event with strong showings that earned them the right to represent Canada at the world championships.
They will face a tough challenge from Richard Dalton of Halifax and Ben Russell who have represented Canada at the last three Olympics.
“They’re extremely talented and have a wealth of experience,” Andrew Russell, brother of three-time Olympian and fellow competitor in the two-person canoe Ben Russell, said. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to do what we did last year. We just want to keep focused and keep the attitude in the right place, stay nice and light and relaxed. It’s very doable, but it’s a tough competition.”
On day two of the competition, Sunday, the trials will start with the women’s 500-meter four-person kayak final and end with the men’s 500-meter four-person kayak final.
In between those two events will be the men’s 500-meter one-person kayak heats and finals as well as the men’s 500-meter one-person canoe heats and finals and the men’s 500-meter two-person kayak finals.
On the women’s side, other than the four-person kayak finals, will be the women’s 500-meter one-person and two-person kayak heats and finals.