The three-day event, which got under way on Friday, is the pinnacle of sprint canoeing in South Africa, with a number of the competitors hoping to impress and prove their worth as positions on the national team selected for the ICF World Championships in Raice, Czech Republic are up for grabs.
“We have had a new generation coming to the front over the last few years and with paddlers such as Esti van Tonder, Louis Hattingh, Donna Hutton and Jean van der Westhuyzen, who have been making regular Under-23 A finals,” said chairman of the SA Sprints committee Craig Mustard.
“So as we start our new Olympic cycle towards Tokyo 2020, we will hear of these athletes a lot more as they are reaching the average Olympic paddling age, as in the past they have been too young.”
A number of young paddlers shone on the world stage at the 2016 Junior and Under-23 World Championships. Mustard believes that this should lead to a larger squad at the Tokyo Olympics.
“We are aiming to have at slightly bigger team than in the past with the focus to have a number of team boats racing at the World Champs.
“Starting team-boat racing now in 2017 will hopefully mean come 2019, we will have a much stronger chance of qualifying more paddlers for Tokyo 2020,” he added.
The national championships will be missing a number of the young stars, who would have elected to focus purely on the National School’s championships later in the month. However, Mustard believes that the quality of paddling will still be high.
“The senior field will be really competitive, with all the main provinces being represented by their big names.
“Unfortunately we have seen a smaller junior field than in the past. This can be associated with SA Schools Champs being at the end of the month in the Western Cape, so paddlers have had to choose their championships to limit traveling.
“Our junior numbers will also take a hit as the World Marathon Championships are in Pietermaritzburg later in the year.
“We have seen a few juniors and Under-23s focusing solely on this event due to it being staged in South Africa,” Mustard added.
* More information can be found at www.canoesa.org.za