A powerful team of 35 paddlers – including three-time Olympic medalist Adam van Koeverden – will head for the world canoe and kayak championships next month with a tough task: qualify for the London Olympic Games.
CanoeKayak Canada announced the squad Monday, after trials for team events took place last weekend in Montreal. Single paddlers showed their wares at World Cup events earlier this season.
Canada is one of the superpowers of the sport, but in some of the disciplines there will be only one shot at earning the nation a berth at the 2012 Summer Games.
For example, K-2 teams must finish in the top six in Szeged, Hungary, to earn a berth, and they will get no second-chance event at the Pan American Games in Mexico in October.
Some events at the world championships (Aug. 17 to 21) will allow 10 or 12 entries through to the Olympics, while the Pan Ams will work as qualifiers for others.
Only 246 paddlers are allowed to compete at the London Games. It's a small event for the canoe and kayak world.
"It's really skimming the top," said Barney Wainwright, high-performance director for CanoeKayak Canada. "Qualification is incredibly tough. You have to be within shot of a medal to qualify in the first place."
In short, the Canadian team has to be ready.
For the first time, van Koeverden will not be able to compete in the event in which he won a gold medal in 2004 –K-1 500-metres – as it is no longer an Olympic discipline. Van Koeverden has since focused on the 1,000-metre race, tinkering with small details in order to peak for the 2012 Olympics.
"We're expecting big things from him, as usual," Wainwright said. "He's still a high-quality athlete."
Instead of the men's singles kayak event at 500 metres, the IOC has allowed the 200-metre sprint to cater to spectators and television. And that has opened up the doors for a new Canadian face on the scene: Mark de Jonge of Dartmouth. He is "on a very steep progression," Wainwright said.
He raced in the shadows when the K-1 500 was an Olympic sport, but now de Jonge's benefiting from a new training program created by CanoeKayak Canada that focuses on power starts and quick accelerations, as opposed to the endurance needed for the other kayak events.
"The future is bright for him." Wainwright said.
Another bright light on the Canadian team in the canoe event is Mark Oldershaw of Burlington, Ont., who has made major breakthroughs this season, winning a gold medal in a World Cup in the Czech Republic against a strong field that included reigning world champion Vadim Menkov of Uzbekistan.
Richard Dalton of Halifax, a world bronze medalist last year in the 200 metres in men's canoe, is also a key athlete.
Wainwright also has high hopes for the Canadian women's kayak foursome of KC Fraser of Mississauga, Mylanie Barre of Lac-Beauport, Que., Gen Orton of Lake Echo, N.S., and Kristin Gauthier of Ottawa. They finished fourth at the last World Cup in Europe.
World champions Laurence Vincent-Lapointe of Trois-Rivières, and Mallorie Nicholson of Oakville, Ont., are also on the world team, but women's canoe is not an Olympic sport, although Wainwright says it may be some day.