Three more pieces of the Australian sprint canoe Olympic jigsaw have fallen into place, with Perth’s Steve Bird and Queensland’s Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull (pictured) winning selection races at the National Championships in Perth on Thursday.
Hometown favourite Bird was a clear winner of the men’s K1 200, while Bull and Burnett proved too strong for 2012 Olympians Naomi Flood and Jo Brigden-Jones in the K2 500.
In other events, 2012 K4 Olympic gold medallists Murray Stewart and Jacob Clear pipped two-time World Championship silver medallists, Ken Wallace and Lachlan Tame, in the final of the men’s K2 1000.
Third-place getters Riley Fitzsimmons and Jordan Wood look set to also go to Rio as part of a seven-member 1000 metre team.
And Curtis McGrath, Amanda Reynolds and Susan Seipel are set to go to the Paralympics after winning their second selection events.
Burnett and Bull followed up their brilliant K2 500 win in the opening Olympic selection race in Adelaide with an, even more, impressive win on Thursday, finishing well ahead of the World Championship combination of Flood and Brigden-Jones.
“When we won the first race, it kind of caught us off guard a bit,” Burnett said.
“Obviously that’s what we wanted, but to come away with the first win, it was something we didn’t really expect.
“Coming into today the tension was high, the nerves were there, but we just executed it perfectly.”
For Bird it will be his second Olympics, after competing in the K2 200 in London alongside fellow Perth paddler, Jesse Phillips.
“There’s a huge amount of relief, there’s been such an exhilarating build-up,” Bird said.
“I’ve always had the confidence once the gun goes, but up until then I’m bloody hopeless. I feel nerves just as much as everyone else, it’s quite a thing that goes on in my head before a race.
“I wouldn’t want to write it down, it would be a bit embarrassing.”
And while Murray Stewart and Jacob Clear were celebrating their sizzling win over Lachlan Tame and Kenny Wallace in the K2 1000, most of the excitement was with third-place getters Riley Fitzsimmons and Jordan Wood.
With Stewart, Clear, Tame and Wallace already qualified for Rio, and with Australia having earned the right to take seven 1000 metre paddlers, Fitzsimmons and Wood look set to join the Rio-bound team.
“This whole season we’ve been working towards this, and to come away with it, I’m so happy,” Wood said.
“I was really nervous. I get real nervous before these races, but once I get into the boat it’s okay.”
Fitzsimmons, who has only been in the sport since London, said Rio would be a great learning curve ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Four years ago I started kayaking, and it’s all gone really quick,” Fitzsimmons said.
“I guess potentially this Olympics will be a real big eye-opener, and it’s going to give Woody and I a big advantage over any other boats that might be going to Tokyo in 2020.
“We’re going to be exposed to that seniors racing, it’s really going to help us develop.”