Rugby’s European Champion on top of the world in Prague
European champion Kimberley Woods continued her fantastic early-season form to win gold and silver in the opening Canoe Slalom World Cup races in Prague at the weekend.
The 21-year-old took top spot in the Canadian (C1) before finishing second in the Kayak (K1).
In a very competitive field on Friday Kimberley qualified both boats through to the semi-finals on the first run.
On a new course on Saturday for the semi-final and final of the C1, the heats had reduced the 55 paddlers - the largest entry ever for the class - down to 30.
The course proved very technical and difficult with several of the top competitors incurring heavy time penalties but Kimberley kept it together coming in fourth with the fastest time, but incurring six seconds of penalties.
Kimberley, who started her career with Rugby Canoe Club, stepped up a gear for the finals getting a clear run and a time four seconds quicker than her semi-final. It earned her gold by over three seconds from team mate Mallory Franklin, to add to the European Championships C1 crown she won earlier this month.
Sunday saw Kimberley back on the water for the semi-finals of the K1 class. Some of the fastest paddlers were having great difficulty dealing with the course but Kimberley stuck to her plan, coming fifth, one of her best results in semi-final races in K1.
In the final Kimberley had a clear run and a very fast time to go into first place but she had to wait at the bottom of the course watching the remaining paddlers finish. She was only pipped by the reigning Olympic champion, Maialen Chourrant from Spain, moving Kimberley down to second place but still winning her first silver medal in K1. Ricarda Funk, 2015 world silver medallist from Germany, was third.
An ecstatic Kimberley said: “I am overwhelmed as getting into the K1 final was my goal, so to get silver was more than I could hope for. I just went into the race and stayed calm. It was a really tricky course with a lot of the top girls making mistakes, so to post a clean run and get a medal at a World Cup is amazing.
“Coming out of the last upstream I thought I had done a good time, with only a couple of small mistakes, but when I crossed the finish line and I was first it was great.
“I had to watch four more girls come down and two of them went behind me so I knew I had got a medal, but then Maialen beat me by only 0.24 seconds which was a shame, but I am more than happy with my run. It was nerve wracking to have to wait but I have been in that position before.”
Reflecting on the fact that next week is Women’s Sport Week, Woods added: “We have such strength in depth right now in canoe slalom in British which is great. I just want to inspire more young women to get involved and I want to be a role model and show that girls can perform under pressure.
“It is so important to have fun and enjoy it. I like to show that I am having fun on the course, just what it means to be there and how lucky I am that this is my job!”
Having just completed her final year of sports studies at Hertfordshire University, Kimberley, who lives close to the Lea Valley Olympic venue, is now able to concentrate on training full time.
The GB canoe slalom squad moves on to Augsburg in Germany this weekend for the the second round of the World Cup.