Olympic kayaker Mike Dawson and defending champion Sam Sutton will headline the Kiwi contingent at the world extreme kayaking championships in Austria this weekend.
Sutton will be chasing a third consecutive title on the Otztaler Ache River in Austria's Otztal Valley, while it remains the only major extreme crown Dawson has yet to win, despite second placings in 2009 and 2011.
The Waiariki Academy of Sport stars will be joined on the starting line by fellow New Zealanders Jamie Sutton, Wills Martin and Brendon Baily, although Sam Sutton admits this year could be wide open.
"So far the course has been very exciting with higher water levels than previous years, meaning it is much harder to stay online," Sutton, who set a course record of 55.84secs in his Bliss-Stick Tuna last year, said.
"If the water levels continue to rise with the forecasted rain, it's going to take a very skilled paddler with some luck to win the event, or it might just be a lottery. Regardless, I'm hoping Mike and I can pull a 1-2 finish just like last year and keep that Kiwi domination flowing."
With their podium finishes last year, Sutton, Dawson and German Paul Bockelmann have automatically qualified for the top-48, with 150 of the world's best extreme paddlers having to get through two qualifying runs first. That field includes Olympic whitewater slalom silver medalist Vavra Hradilek - the Czech paddler who spent last summer training in Rotorua with Dawson - and bronze medalist Hannes Aigner (Germany).
The top-48 then race two rounds of knockout competition before the top-15 final.
It's already been a huge year for 25-year-old Dawson, who reached the semifinals of the slalom competition in London at his first Olympics. Building up to the games, he won two titles at the prestigious Teva Mountain Games in Colorado and since London, has had a whirlwind series of races taking him all over the globe.
- © Fairfax NZ News