World Championships 2023 – Race Report

World Championships 2023 – Race Report

At the end of August, our 12-strong World Championships team flew out to Vejen, Denmark to compete in the final marathon international of the 2023 season. The Danish held a fantastic European Championships last year and they didn’t fail to disappoint, mimicking last year’s slick and well-organised event. The deep, idyllic Lake Jels was the perfect venue for tight racing, big groups and exciting portages.

After earning five medals at the European Championships earlier in the summer and having seen the Masters kick off with a successful two days of racing (including four medals, two of which were gold!), the team was excited to get on the water and race! This was supported by the enthusiasm demonstrated from all the British spectators and supporters who made the journey out to cheer on the team.

Paracanoe Race’s

2023 saw the return of the Paracanoe demonstration races with four paddlers selected to represent Great Britain at this years event. After a hugely successful competition last year, the International Canoe Federation is starting to see the potential of including Paracanoe in marathon racing. We are hoping it will become a permanent edition in 2025!

The first day of para racing took place on the Wednesday and it was Shaun Cook’s (Norwich Canoe Club) chance to race against the other Va’a paddlers representing Brazil. After achieving bronze last year, Shaun was back for more and keen to improve on the result. A consistent race saw him claw his way through the field to demonstrate a quick sprint finish, claiming the gold medal for his men’s VL2 race.

Speaking after his race, Shaun said, “Very, very excited to win the gold medal. It hurt like hell but I really enjoyed it. It was a tough race especially the last corner. I was fighting waves on the last corner and I could see Brazil closing the gap so I paddled like crazy until the end. As I crossed the line I was pushing myself so hard I wasn’t sure if I’d done it. So it was fantastic to hear the result.”

“The venue is amazing, a beautiful place to paddle and there’s been a friendly welcome from everyone. I want thank everyone here and everyone at Norwich Canoe Club. The support I’ve had has been amazing. The Gold medal is shared with all of you.”

After a nervous couple days of waiting for their turn, the rest of the team took to the water on Friday. In the men’s KL2 class, Jon White (Exeter Canoe Club) found himself on a combined start line with the men’s KL1 and KL3 class, including fellow team members Tim Lodge (Wey Kayak Club) and Charlie Knowlden (Royal Leamington Spa Canoe Club). A quick start saw a strong break for the top group of the KL3 class, with Tim and Charlie making the cut. Jon was not sure whether the racers in front of him were his class or another so he put down an impressive chase to be sure. A strong head-to-head battle saw an intense last small lap in the KL3 class. Coming off the final turn buoy, Charlie launched an attack and managed to hold the pace as he got closer and closer to the line. In his debut international race, Charlie Knowlden took gold with Tim Lodge coming in an incredibly close second.

Speaking to Charlie after his win, he said, “I haven’t really processed it yet, I’m going to feel great in about an hour and my ego is going to be through the roof, but for now I’m just trying to not be sick. Before the race I was pretty nervous as this was my first world championship ever and I was competing against some of the best. As soon as those start gates dropped I just tried to remember all of my training and tried to get on the side of one of the washes. I remained on that right side for all three long laps and then on that short lap I saw that they might try to push me out on the finish line so I thought I’m going to make a move now and I just sent it and came first.

“I’ve done about four (marathon races before today). I have to thank all my coaches for pushing me well out of my comfort zone and all that training has paid off. I got this first place because of them. A shout out to my coaches Sam Glover, Attila Herbent, Tibor and Sam Cribbett, my main marathon guy, and Tim Scott. I started off doing pool sessions in a recreational boat. They saw I had a talent for it and the slalom team picked me up and I did a couple races there and enjoyed it. All of the white water guys were pushing me to do bigger white water so that is where I get my balance from and that has shaped me into a well rounded paddler. When I did start sprint about a year ago, I picked it up really fast and now I’m here. I’m really proud of myself and I enjoy this sport so much. It’s been a life changer.”

In the KL2 race, Jon White was putting down the hammer and had opened up a massive 3-minute gap over the rest of the field as he crossed the line to take gold. This was a step up the podium for Jon as he took silver in the same race in 2022.

Speaking after his race, he said,“I’m pretty excited. It was quite stressful racing because we had a combined start, so I knew three of the people in the race ahead of me weren’t in my category, but the fourth person I wasn’t sure about. But around halfway around the race I got the news that he wasn’t in my category and that I was in the lead. After that I focused on holding my pace and worked hard right to the end. I’m very very happy and tired. My heart rate was probably averaging up around 190 for the race, so I was working really hard.

“I got a silver in this race last year, so to get the gold this year is pretty amazing. I was hopeful but the problem is with the para races, we don’t have any other races throughout the year, so you’ve got no idea who is going to turn up, what they’ve done in the last twelve months, so you just have to give it your all and hope for the best.”

Jon’s medal concluded an incredibly successful championship for our para team with the highest possible medal count we could earn (three golds, one silver from a race where we also won gold). This strongly reflects the para talent and support within our country and puts us in a good place moving into the next season.

The Para Team Manager, Tim Scott, reflected after a successful few days, “Our British team were an inspirational squad, all with individual backstories showing a remarkable tenacity that has underpinned their ability to even paddle, let alone train and compete at an international standard.”

“There is a danger sometimes that para achievements can be taken for granted or not seen as demonstrations of elite sport, but attitudes are changing and it’s a huge credit to the MRC and British Canoeing in going out of their way to support the development of the British Para marathon team.”

“[The results produced] reflect not just individual excellence but also are a credit to a club system that has really supported them, along with valuable input from the British Canoeing para coaches. [This demonstrates] a comfortable performance department/ club partnership in para.”

“It was an amazing privilege to be team manager for the group and they all should be incredibly proud not just of their performances on the water but also of their positive, generous, trail blazing and inspirational attitude that will allow other para paddlers to follow in the future.”

For a recap of the full results, you can visit the event results here.

Junior Race’s

The K1 Junior Women were first on the water on Thursday Morning taking on the long course distance of 17.7km. Greta Roeser (Wey Kayak Club), current European Champion for the short course distance and vice-European Champion in the long course, was joined on the start line by fellow Brit Isla Bethune (Elmbridge Canoe Club) and both girls had a stellar start to the race. They successfully avoided the collisions and carnage that caused one of the race favourites, Molner (Hungary), to capsize off the start. 

Both Isla and Greta established themselves at the front of a large lead group and held their positions throughout the opening lap, showing strength and confidence around washes.

However the second portage brought heartbreak for the Elmbridge paddler who knocked her rudder on the get out of the portage. After battling some some serious steering issues, Isla was unfortunately forced to withdraw from the race.

Greta continued to power around the course and maintained a top three position throughout, desperately battling for the gold. However, no matter the move, Szerafin of Hungary was too strong and broke away to claim the title. Greta matched her European Championships results with another silver medal in the long course. She completed the course in a time of 1:27:32. 

Speaking after her race Greta said, “I’m happy with my race today especially when I’m up against some clever racers which all contribute to the bank of experience I’m gathering. I’m really looking forward to watching my teammates race over the next few days.”

In one of the arguably most exciting Junior Women’s K2 race in years, Greta returned to the water with Sienna Payne (Chelmsford Canoe Club) to see if they could clinch another medal for the British team on day two of the championships.

It was fast off the line and the British crew found themselves in the chase group as four boats broke away, led by a fast Hungarian crew. It was a long first lap of chasing for our girls but they were able to close the gap during the middle of lap two as they approached the first portage. Both girls were fast on the portages and had a good get in, ready to push on around the next lap, but the chasing started again as another Hungarian crew decided to break away into the lead. It seemed the British, South African’s and Spanish were in competition for silver or bronze as the gap remained consistent over the next few laps.

And then suddenly it wasn’t. The gap started to close ever so slightly and pressure kicked in. Into the approach of the second to last portage, the chase group overtook a canoe paddler off the back of another race on the course. A slight lapse of judgment caused Roeser & Payne to collide with him, leaving a gap between them and the medals to open up. The only hope they had was to chase and chase hard.

However, the group in front of them were also chasing and the gap to the lead boat started to close drastically. Within half a lap, the leaders and the chase group were back together and Roeser & Payne found themselves a matter of metres away from making the group. A strong last portage run put them back into contention for the medals as they battled around the final small lap. They crossed the line in an impressive fourth place with a time of 1:21:40.

Speaking with the star duo after their race, they said:

S “We did really well. We’re really happy with the result.

G “It was quite exciting to see how it kept changing and forming and moving around. Being behind and watching the race ahead you see the front group moving around and doing so many burns. Whereas we were doing a steady pace in a group and doing equal leads.”

S “The Hungarian boat broke free and then we were in a group of three with us the Spanish and the South Africans and we were trying to catch them and then on the turn one of the C1 boats didn’t move out the way on the turn”

G “The C1 was going wide so I thought we could nip through but then they went close so we had to do a bit of back paddling and then I think we struggled to try and recover from that. It was a really hard lap”

S “As we neared the bottom turn we were definitely a lot closer, you could see the V but we just couldn’t quite get there in time”

The weekend saw the turn of the Junior Boy’s races with Harry Freeland (Reading Canoe Club) taking on the K1 in his final international as a junior and James Ross & Will Short (both Elmbridge Canoe Club) racing in the K2, despite only being under 16 at the time.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, Harry lined up on a packed and competitive start line ready to face the 21km distance. Freeland managed to maintain pace with the leaders as the race got underway, but dropped back after the first turn due consistent jumps and changes in the front group.

He put an effort in to reach the back of the leaders going around lap one, but was unable to maintain the positions as he dropped back to lead the chase group around the next laps. He put on a dedicated performance around the course to finish in 15th place with a time of 1:38:13.

On Sunday morning, it was the turn of the K2. It was a packed start line and carnage ensued within the first 100m with multiple crews taking a dip. Unfortunately, Will and James were amongst them with a crash, spin and swim at the start of their race.

Despite the cold dip, the duo showed their commitment to finishing their international racing debut race and continued to graft around the 21km course. They crossed the line in a commendable 20th place with a time of 1:41:22. As they are both under sixteen, they still have two years within the junior category to develop their skills further.

Under 23 Race’s

The Under 23 category offers an opportunity for athletes to continue developing their skills on the international stage once they have left junior, without having to jump straight into the senior ranks. However, these races tend to be just as competitive as the senior races and offer a fantastic challenge for our British athletes to compete against some world class paddlers.

Isla Bethune (Elmbridge Canoe Club) was back in action in the U23 Women’s K1 after an unfortunate rudder issue meant she had to retire from her race in the junior. Racing up into the category, she had a great start to her race and established herself in the leading group. She maintained the strong position around the first two laps, demonstrating skill and speed as she fought for washes against some racers that are four years older than her.

Coming into the first portage, Bethune lost contact with the race leaders and she started to drop back within the field. She powered on and put on a dedicated performance around the course to finish in 16th position. She completed the 21k course in a time of 1:51:04.

Luke Shaw (Norwich Canoe Club) and Matt Collinge (Fowey River Canoe Club) were representing the Brits in the U23 Men’s K1 race. Both had had a very busy season after competing at the boiling hot European Championships as well as many of the U23 Sprint internationals and even some of the senior ones! The Marathon World Championships presented a last opportunity for Luke and Matt to race within the U23 category on the international stage.

Collinge stormed off the start and established a great position within the lead group. Luke battled with a crowded field off the line and ended up being involved with a couple collisions, making it hard to maintain the high speed the front group was setting. The first few laps was just a battle for survival and as lap two started, both Brits were back paddling together within a chase group and attempting to return to the front of the race. The gaps between the group continued to yo-yo throughout majority of the distance.

A huge effort from Luke in lap six saw him spectacularly rejoin the leaders heading into the penultimate portage. He had a strong and determined portage, and settled into the second v-wash of the lead group.

The Danish boat of Knudsen set the pace high on the last portage. It caused the group to split and Shaw was left in a chase group again for the final small lap of the race.

The Norwich paddler crossed the line in an impressive eighth place with a time of 1:47:00. Collinge continued to power around the 24.3km course after dropping back. He finished in an admirable 14th place with a time of 1:50:16.

A valiant effort from all three racers in the U23 category and hopefully lots of reflections and lessons learnt as they continue to develop within the sport.

Senior Race’s

Short Course

Short Course racing has been taking place for a number of years now at the World Championship stage and it is quickly becoming a highlight to the schedule. Both the Senior Men and Women K1 finals required athletes to qualify from heats earlier in the morning. The first six boats across the line and the next eight best times across the two heats secured places in the final. This resulted in some tight racing.

Melissa Johnson (Chelmsford Canoe Club) was first up to compete around the 3.4km course. She had a great heat, finishing in sixth place and earning her automatic qualification to the final. Later in the day, she took to the water within an incredibly competitive final. The race was dominated by Swedish paddler Melina Andersen, and Johnson spent the majority of her race in the chase group hunting down the leaders. Johnson put in a dedicated effort and secured an impressive top 10 finish in her first Marathon World Championships as a senior.

James Russell and Matthew Johnson, both also Chelmsford Canoe Clubs paddlers, both comfortably qualified for the final after success in their respective heats earlier in the day.

It was a stacked start line for the Men’s K1 final. Matt Johnson worked his way through the field and attempted to establish a position towards the front of the group. There was plenty of movement within the group and the first portage was an opportunity for Russell to gain a few places and push back up the field. Both Brits continued to power around the 3.4km course. A sprint to the finish line secured Russell his top ten finish. He earned ninth place with a time of 00:14:53.

Matt Johnson was not far behind, he finished in 14th place with a time of 00:15:09.

Speaking with James after his race, he said: “It was pretty tough today, it didn’t go quite my way, not as well as I would have hoped for going into it after my strong performance in the heats. I didn’t get out the start particularly well for me.

“Usually I can get towards the front of the race early on, but I wasn’t able to do that this time and once you’re on the back foot in those races, it’s hard to get to the front foot. Going forward from my side I now know I need to work on the start a bit more, and hopefully that will help me improve a little bit.”

“With so many people in the race, you can find someone to drag you back, and Alonso was my ticket back to the front, but as soon as I got there Pimenta, just went off again, and when he goes, he’s quite quick. He’s fresh off winning the K1 1000 sprint race in Duisburg (2023 Canoe Sprint World Championships) so it was very tough being on the uphill side of that burn.

“Once everything settled down, I was happy with how I raced and I was comfortable within the second group and nearly won it on the sprint finish, but still made the top 10 and I’m happy that I’ve managed to stay in the top 10 this year.”

Long Course

The long course racing saw another chance for our senior paddlers to make their mark on the international fields.

First up on the Saturday was Melissa Johnson (Chelmsford Canoe Club) as she took on the Senior Women’s K1. She didn’t quite make it to the lead group off the line and had to put a huge effort paddling solo around the first lap in an attempt to chase down the leaders

Heading into the first portage of the race, Melissa was joined by the Argentinian boat of Collueque. She had a great run and both boats went into lap three paddling as a duo.

She continued to power around the 24.3km course, paddling in the same pair for the remaining laps, and finished in 11th place, completing the course in a time of 2:07:43.

Speaking after her race, Melissa said, “It’s been a great learning experience at my first senior worlds. I’m looking forward to a solid winter to see what I can improve on for next year.”

The last race of the day on Saturday saw James Russell (Chelmsford Canoe Club) line up for the K1 Senior Men’s race.

It was yet again a highly contested start line and Russell has a brilliant start finding a back wash position in the large lead group. Trouble struck coming into the first portage, Russell lost valuable time due to a rudder issue that needed sorting. A quick fix and James pushed on into the next lap, determined to make up ground.

However, another stop on the fourth portage to fix his rudder once again meant he unfortunately dropped further back in the field. Despite his boat issues, James was committed to the race around the 27.6km course and ultimately crossed the line in 20th place with a time of 2:08:10.

The last race of the event saw the Senior Men K2 crews line up within a field of high caliber athletes.

Great Britain had two crews in the mix with Chelmsford Canoe Club’s Matt Johnson and Alex McIntyre, plus James Russell (Chelmsford Canoe Club) was also back in action teaming up with Luke Shaw of Norwich Canoe Club.

Both crews were swift off the start line and gained good positions in the back of the lead group. This was maintained around lap one, however Russell and Shaw dropped back to lead the chase group at the start of lap 2. 

Johnson and McIntyre clung to the back of the leading group around lap two, but as the pace quickened coming into the first portage, they fell behind and joined fellow Brits in the chase group.

As the lead group arrived into the first portage, the Danish boat of Knudsen and Maretti took a swim on the get out. Johnson and McIntyre came into the portage whilst the Danish boat were trying to recover, and in the heat of racing caused an obstruction for the Danes that landed them with an unfortunate 30 second penalty. The penalty was only awarded as they headed out into lap three and were not aware.

In lap three, both British crews put in a huge effort in an attempt to catch the leaders and significantly closing the gap. Russell and Shaw got away well after the second portage hunting down the leaders. However, it was heartbreak for the Chelmsford duo as they stopped to take their penalty.

It was a huge effort for Johnson and McIntyre around the next lap, and on the get in of the fourth portage, they joined the Spanish and Danish crews as a chase trio. A hard graft saw them rejoin the chase group ahead.

The race shifted in lap six as the gap between the chasers and the leaders was bridged. The 2022 K2 World Champions, Pimenta and Ramahlo of Portugal, put down another burn in an attempt to split the group but Russell and Shaw made it stick and continued on with the lead group.

The pace slowed going into lap seven and the Chelmsford and Norwich team secured a solid place on the lead side wash. Matt and Alex endeavoured solo behind the large lead group, grinding hard to gain contact.

James and Luke stayed with the leaders until the final small lap as the group started to thin out towards the finish line. An impressive top ten for Russell and Shaw on the world stage as they cross the finish line in 9th place with a time of 1:55:16. It was 13th for Johnson and McIntyre with a time of 1:57:23.

After the race, James and Luke said, “It was the first time we had raced this boat internationally. The first two laps we had a technical issue which sorted itself out after we had a chance to run at the first portage. We really enjoyed ourselves, riding the big waves in the second group, catching up to the front group and then racing within that front group. We were a little caught out with a little bit of firepower coming out of that last portage but we are really pleased with the race.”

Team Leader, Fay Lamph, reflected on the busy week of racing, “We took a small team of twelve made up of some experienced paddlers and some racing at this level for the first time. The support for each other amongst the team was brilliant to see and our athletes demonstrated some really intelligent and determined paddling even if the race didn’t always go to plan. It was particularly great to watch all our crew boats getting involved in such exciting K2 racing. All the athletes should be proud of their performances and I was impressed with the professionalism shown by the team. Thank you to Scott, Andy and Julian who worked tirelessly to ensure that boats, athletes and the team leader were in the right place at the right time.”

For a recap of the full results, you can visit the event results here.

Full live streams for each day have now been uploaded to the Planet Canoe Youtube Channel. Click the link below to see the full list of live streams.

Thank you to Precision Fuel & Hydration for their support of our international athletes. Click here to find out more.