Max Brown, a K2 Olympian for New Zealand, reflects on the setting a new New Zealand record in K4 in their bid to qualify in that event for Paris Olympics.
A year ago, eight of New Zealand’s best male Kayakers and coach sat in a room in Cambridge. We each agreed to fully commit to qualifying a New Zealand’s Men’s K4 for the Paris Olympics, a boat that hasn’t been qualified since 1992. We knew this was no small task and knew we may fall short, but we decided it was the time to go for it.
We had been particularly inspired by the Rowing NZ Men’s 8 Olympic gold medal at Tokyo - which arrived 50 years on from NZ’s first gold. For us to qualify though, we needed to place top eight, which meant making the A Final at the World Champs in Germany in August.
Eight of us trained two-three times a day, trying to make the K4 goes as fast as humanly possible.
As well as the overall goal, we had to individually earn our spot in the boat at the February 2023 trials.
There was a huge focus on seeing who could deal with the pressure and thrive under it. We had a saying “pressure is a privilege”. This is something I’d heard Dan Carter and our Sports Phycologist, Dom Vettise talk about a lot. The pressure came from the opportunity and the opportunity is something that very few get.
After trials in February, Zach Ferkins, Kurtis Imrie, Hamish Legarth and I, were selected to race K4 at the World Cups and World Champs. Ashton Rieser was selected as reserve.
Our international campaign begun with five weeks on Lake Pusiano in Italy (20 minutes from Lake Como). One of our hardest sessions was racing against with the Italian Men’s K4. We both tied road cones to the back of our boats and dragged them up and down the lake for two hours. This felt like dragging a 20kg sack of potatoes, essentially halving our normal speed.
After our time in Italy, we headed to the South of France for three weeks. We hit good speeds and achieved new personal best times, we got to race against the Canadian and French teams multiple times. All the races were very tight and we won a couple, which gave us some confidence leading into World Champs in Duisburg, Germany.
Our first heat of the World Champs was on Wednesday, August 23 and we had to place top-six to make the semifinals. We finished fourth.
We had one day to rest and prepare for the Semi Finals and Finals on the Friday, where we had to place top-three in our semi final (there were three semi finals in total). It turns out we were up against the toughest and fastest Semi Final heat of all, with multiple world champions in the lineup.
We were all nervous and were feeling the pressure of the task in hand to make the top three. However, we nailed our race plan and executed our fastest race ever, which earned us a New Zealand record.
Our time was the sixth fastest of all the semi finals, but 0.4 seconds behind third place which sadly meant we just missed out on making the Final and the chance to qualify for Paris 2024.
It was a bitter-sweet end to our K4 campaign. We executed exactly what the coaches had asked of us and what we expected of each other. We came away with a New Zealand record and some amazing experiences, but it still hurts to have achieved all that and not qualify.
The funding impact of missing out on that A final meant I lost a funding grant of $20,000. I still receive $32,000 but am looking for opportunities to make up the shortfall.
Luckily we can still qualify a K2 for the Paris Games, and the event Kurtis and I represented NZ in at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
All eight of the men in the New Zealand team will be gunning for two spots, it will be extremely tough and I will be going up against my closest friends, but I have every belief that I have the dedication and ability to earn my seat and win an Olympic Medal in Paris.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who has been in my corner this Olympic cycle (and even before it too). CurraNZ has been providing me with product since 2019 and have really benefited from using them as a key training and performance tool. If anyone is looking to step up their performance, I highly recommend giving a packet a try!