Butcher caps off top year with silver

Otago canoe slalom competitor Finn Butcher in action in the Czech Republic. PHOTO: JAN HOMOLKA
Otago canoe slalom competitor Finn Butcher in action in the Czech Republic. PHOTO: JAN HOMOLKA
Otago paddler Finn Butcher has capped an exceptional year with an important result.

Butcher claimed a silver medal in the extreme slalom at the world kayaking championships in Slovakia on Monday.

He was second on the Bratislava course behind British kayaker Joe Clarke, the K1 gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and ahead of Austrian rival Mario Leitner.

It follows Butcher’s brilliant paddle for gold at the world-ranking event in Prague last month.

‘‘I’m super happy to start the new Olympic cycle with the season I’ve had,’’ he told the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

‘‘And to top it off with a vice-world champion title is unreal.’’

The extra significance of this week’s performance is that extreme slalom will make its Olympic debut in Paris in 2024.

Butcher, who narrowly missed out on Tokyo, is determined he will be representing New Zealand in three years.

‘‘This will also mean that I will get some more support from High Performance Sport NZ.

‘‘That will be a huge game changer in my campaign to Paris 2024, where I’m aiming for two medals.’’

Extreme slalom is certainly not for the fainthearted.

It involves four boats on the water at once, racing down a course and navigating gates.

‘‘It’s bloody rough, with so many fast guys all fighting the whole way down.’’

It can become a dogfight, and it can also come down to the odd stroke of good fortune — and so it proved in Bratislava.

‘‘In the quarterfinals, I got tangled up in the first upstream and had to renegotiate it, which put me right at the back,’’ Butcher said.

‘‘But I kept fighting to catch up, passed one guy into third place and then made it through to the next round in second place as someone was deemed to have missed a gate.’’

There was another tussle in the semifinal, he said.

‘‘I got the inside line but then got taken out when a competitor pushed off the wall and his boat landed on me.

‘‘I passed into third again, and my competitor was deemed to have violated the safety rules for landing on me in the first upstream, so I was in the final.’’

Butcher saved his best for last, staying patient off the start, waiting to get the inside line and overtaking into second place.

‘‘Three of us chose the right upstream - there is one on either side, and you pick one to negotiate - leaving the eventual winner to have a clear run through the other side by himself.

‘‘I was right on his tail, but decided in the second upstream to go opposite him rather than try to overtake in case we all went into the same one and it got messy.

‘‘I chased right on his tail all the way to the finish but couldn’t get him. In hindsight, I could have attacked him a bit more and maybe taken the title, but I’m happy regardless.’’

The Alexandra paddler will reflect warmly on 2021.

While competing overseas in the time of Covid has its challenges, he is confident he is on the path to Paris.

‘‘I’ve found some speed in my slalom boat and feel like my style is really coming together.’’



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