By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Olympic slalom kayak singles champion Joe Clarke failed to secure a place in the British canoe team announced on Thursday for next year’s Tokyo Games.
Team GB will take five canoe athletes to Japan with Liam Heath, sprint gold medallist from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, leading the way in search of a fourth medal at his third Olympics.
The 35-year-old, whose tally includes a silver from four years ago and a 2012 bronze, is the only one of the five with previous Olympic experience.
Heath and Clarke were Britain’s golden paddlers in Rio, but the latter’s hopes of a trip to Tokyo were dashed when he finished fifth in last month’s canoe slalom world championships.
Team GB operates a first-past-the-post selection policy and it was no shock that Bradley Forbes-Cryans, a World Cup silver medallist, was chosen after coming fourth at the championships.
The list of absentees also includes Ryan Westley, canoe slalom silver medallist at last year’s world championships in Rio and 2018 European champion.
Team leader Paul Ratcliffe, a 2000 Olympic silver medallist, said: “It’s absolutely gutting for the ones who haven’t made it. I was in that boat back in 2004, it was heartbreaking for myself when Campbell Walsh made the team.
“There’s only four (slalom) athletes who can go to the Olympic Games and we selected the four that have come through our system and selection policy to go and represent us.”
Ratcliffe said the time window for appeals had expired but Clarke remained in the reserve boat in case of any withdrawals.
He was also sure Clarke, 26, would have another opportunity.
“I’ve known Joe since he was a kid, I absolutely think the world of him from when he sat on the bank as a young teenager coming through,” Ratcliffe told reporters.
“He’s got many more medals in him. We’ve already started conversations with him through the head coach about what are his next steps. I think it’s just important to let the dust settle.
“He’s the reserve boat for the Olympic team, he’s got European titles to go for next year, World Cup titles… it’s about how he bounces back now and with the character and champion he is, I’m sure he’s got the fighting spirit in him.”
Mallory Franklin will race in the women’s canoe single (C1) class, which will be making its Olympic debut.
The other athletes are Kimberley Woods, in women’s kayak single, and Adam Burgess in men’s canoe slalom kayak single.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)