Three exciting days of white water rafting action ended on the Rangitaiki river, south of Rotorua, on Sunday afternoon.
Selection was on the the line for the Kiwi crews for the IRF White Water Rafting Championships in Rotorua and Kawerau, November 13 to 24, 2013, so there was lot at stake.
Team Teikei Japan won the Open Men’s competition.
They took out the Sprint and Head 2 Head on the Kaituna and were second in the Slalom on the Tarawera in Kawerau on Saturday, behind local crew, Ghost Chips.
With only 9 points separating the two teams the Downriver, a race of strength and stamina, on the Rangitaiki was crucial.
In the end the professionalism of Team Teikei showed and they won in a time of 44.04.45 ahead of Ghost Chips in 45.11.65.
Japan are the reigning world champions. Takuya Ikeda and Team Teikei (Yoshin Furukawa, Satoshi Koizumu, Shota Suzuki, Masahiro Izumiyama and Yuta Fujikawa) are already confirmed as the Japanese team in 2013 and will bring their blend of precision, technical skill and raw strength back to New Zealand.
“They’ll be really welcome,” said race director, Tim Marshall. “They are a great bunch of guys who enjoyed themselves, raced hard and made lots of friends. The other crews may not be so keen on having them back, though,” added Marshall, with a grin.
Second overall and first Kiwi crew were Bay of Plenty’s Ghost Chips. Captain Bernd Sommer with Sam Sutton, Jamie Sutton, Benjamin Gibb, Brad Lauder and Paul Roozendaal had a great weekend, seeing off the strong challenge of Team Bestie from Czech Republic.
Even a broken paddle in the very first event, Friday’s Sprint, didn’t slow their momentum and they won the Slalom on Saturday on the Tarawera.
There was a race within a race down the field with two Australian crews, Team Doric from Sydney and Team Cairns, going head to head for selection for the 2013 World Championships. There was nothing in it. Team Cairns had trailed all weekend but won the Down River in a sprint finish over Team Doric.
However in the end it was Team Doric that came out on top, overall, by just 6 points.
“Both teams are old hands in New Zealand rafting and it was hard to see one of them lose.” said Raewyn Larcombe of New Zealand Rivers Association. “BTA means Been to Africa – most of the crew represented New Zealand at the Camel White Water Challenge on the Zambezi River in 2001. They were second there and it was great they came up from the South Island to support the sport this weekend.”
Nick Chater of Aotearoa Paddlers has represented New Zealand at World Championships before. He’s a long-time advocate of the sport and 2013 will be very special. “It’s a massive opportunity to introduce New Zealand to the fun and excitement of raft racing,” he said after wrapping up the New Zealand title. “This is an incredibly exciting and skillful team sport and we are producing some of the best white water talents on the planet.”
Racing against well-funded, experienced race crews from the powerhouses of the sport – Europe, Japan and South America – is a tough ask but Chater isn’t intimidated. “They tell us that if we had the race experience and backing they had we’d be one of the top countries, if not the best in the world,” Chater continued. “They are constantly amazed at how well we do.'”
Home advantage will play a big role in the success of the Kiwi crews, next year. “We’ll have an awesome opportunity to achieve at the highest level, by not having to worry about travel and being able to focus on training for the months prior to the worlds,” added Chater.
The Rotorua-based ‘Okere Ladies’ crew of Kelly Wood, Denise (Buba) Martin, Alana Whiteman, Annie Cairns, Kiwi Olympian Luuka Jones and Nikki Whitehead won the women’s category.
It was a perfect weekend for Bernd Sommer, captaining Ghost Chips and also coaching the Okere Ladies team.
“He’s a truly invaluable asset to the team,” said captain, Kelly Wood. Nikki Kelly and Denise Martin are four times world champions, 1999-2001 and 2003. Annie Cairns was in the crew in 2001 and 2003 and Kelly Wood in 2003. Since then New Zealand have been second once and 3rd, twice. It is a remarkable record and ten years on from the last time they were on the top step of the podium they will start favourites to take gold again on home water in 2013. “We’re really looking forward to having the World Champs here, right on our doorstep, and representing New Zealand,” said Wood as the crew headed home to their Okere Falls Store HQ for a well-earned celebration.
The Pre-Worlds and National Championships were raced on the same riversand in the same locally New Zealand made INCEPT rafts as the World Championships in 2013. The event was an ideal rehearsal for crews and the event organizers and went off without a hitch. Around 50 crews from all over the world will travel to New Zealand in November, next year – 30 men’s and 20 women’s teams.
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