Mike Dawson has created a little piece of kayaking history, becoming the first New Zealander to win an ICF World Cup canoe slalom medal over the weekend.
The two-time Olympian grabbed gold in the men’s extreme canoe slalom final at the first World Cup of the season in Prague, heading off a star trio of Czech paddlers on their home course.
The non-Olympic extreme event featured four boats negotiating the tricky Troja course, with slalom gates and a compulsory eskimo roll to negotiate.
The 30-year-old Dawson edged his good friend and long-time rival Vavra Hradilek - the 2012 Olympic silver medalist - in the final, ahead of Vit Prindis and fellow Czech Ondrej Tunka.
“It was a pretty cool race in the final, with Vavra, Vit and Ondrej Tunka, and it was cool to take it to the Czechs and win New Zealand’s first world cup medal,” says Dawson.
“It was pretty flat-tack top-to-bottom and you’ve got to do two gates, so it’s full-on, but once we came through the quarter finals into the semis, it was anyone’s race.”
Rising Rotorua paddler Zach Mutton finished seventh.
All three Czech paddlers have experience paddling in New Zealand, having each beaten Dawson to titles at Kiwi events within the last year.
Prindis was also coming off his own breakthrough World Cup win, having taken out the K1 slalom title hours earlier.
Amid a field brimming with talent, Dawson was pleased with his own slalom run, finishing 21st in the semifinal with the top-10 progressing through.
“The top three-quarters of the course was amazing and I had really good feeling on the water and was going for it. Then the wheels fell off a little bit towards the bottom part of the course, which just shows that I probably haven’t done enough off-season training this year. I’m slowly getting back into shape but I’ve got to be patient for the next world cup next week in Germany, build on those positive things and keep improving.”
Fellow Kiwi Luuka Jones, meanwhile, came within a touch of making the women’s K1 final, finishing 12th in her semifinal run.
Her 112.19sec time included 4secs worth of penalties, having touched gates 2 and 17, leaving her just 1.31secs outside the top-10 final, which was won by reigning Olympic champion, Spain’s Maialen Chourrau.
It was a similar story for Jones in her C1 (canoe) semifinal a day earlier, when she missed one gate entirely and added four touches for 58secs’ worth of penalties to finish 24th, although her raw time would’ve been good enough for the second-fastest semifinal time.
The next World Cup is in Augsburg, Germany, next weekend.