Despite disruption to all his best-laid plans, Kiwi kayaker Finn Butcher heads into the third World Cup canoe slalom event of the season this weekend as the best-prepared of the 10-strong New Zealand team.
The Central Otago paddler skipped the first two rounds over the previous two weekends to concentrate on the under-23 world championships later this month in Italy.
Italian rains put paid to those plans, however; the Ivrea course has been flooded out for weeks and Butcher - who’d deliberately skipped the hectic travel of the World Cup circuit - found himself traveling hectically looking for training venues.
As luck would have it, one of the venues he’s favoured happens to be Augsburg in Germany - which is also the venue for the World Cup racing this weekend.
“I found moving around every week or so pretty taxing last year so missed the first two World Cups to focus on being fresh for the worlds but I’ve ended up moving around pretty much each week anyway,” Butcher said. “The best plans are the ones that are flexible though and I’ve managed to get a good couple of weeks under my belt in Augsburg, where I’m feeling pretty comfortable now.”
Butcher will race the men’s K1 this weekend alongside Mike Dawson and Callum Gilbert, with Luuka Jones, Courtney Williams and Jane Nicholas racing the women’s K1. Jones, Nicholas and Hannah Thomas will also race the women’s C1, while Ben Gibb, Jack Egan and Patrick Washer line up in the men’s C1.
However, in contrast to Italy, Germany’s drought conditions have caused another problem for the Kiwis.
“There’s pretty low water in Augsburg at the moment so they’ve really cut down the nations’ training this week and cancelled tomorrow’s training,” Butcher explained.
That’s left him as the most-familiar with the course, though he knows he’ll be down on hardened race experience.
“We will just have to see how the different approach pans out but I trust the plan and it’s been working well so far. I love it here and that has made a massive difference to my mindset coming into this race - hopefully we will get to see that expressed in a good performance this weekend but regardless, I’ll most definitely be sad to leave Augsburg.”
His preparation has been bolstered by working with High Performance Sport New Zealand advisor and former top triathlete Hamish Carter, who has helped with his campaign goals and focus, while Canoe Slalom New Zealand coaches Shaun Pearce and Pierre Labarelle have been addressing technical aspects with the team in Europe.
Jones, Dawson and Gilbert have all made semifinals over the last fortnight and while they haven’t been able to kick on into the top-10 finals, Dawson has picked up two silver medals in the men’s extreme slalom discipline.
This weekend marks the first international senior outing for Thomas, meanwhile, who needed ICF approval to fast-track her change of nationality status from Great Britain to New Zealand, after representing the former at under-18 level.
Racing starts Friday night (NZ time).