Since December 2006, GB Canoeing, in partnership with UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) has been focused on a nationwide search to unearth potential female talent with the necessary attributes to become a medallist for the GB sprint kayak team at London 2012.
Britain’s canoeists had a successful 2004 Olympic Games, collecting a haul of three medals and ranking in the top six British Olympic sports. However, whilst there is a good crop of female talent already being primed for Olympic performance, GB Canoeing felt that a concerted search for talent, which included looking outside of the sport, was required to ensure the most competitive crew was fielded across all three sprint kayak disciplines - K1, K2 and K4, especially considering 2012 timeframes.
The Sprint Kayak programme is just one of a number of special Talent ID initiatives and projects currently underway in order to ensure Great Britain achieves its aspirational goal of fourth in the London 2012 Olympics. Other programmes include the Sporting Giants – Tall Sports Campaign, which was launched in February this year, and attracted nearly 5,000 applicants for consideration across the sports of handball, rowing and volleyball.
Within the UK’s high-performance system, UK Sport sets the strategic lead and provides guidance on the field of talent identification, selection, confirmation and Olympic/Paralympic development. UK Sport also works in close partnership with targeted National Governing Bodies (NGB’s), identifying critical talent gaps in their existing selection systems, and facilitating the sharing of best practice across the wider UK sporting landscape.
The EIS acts as the support delivery agency with specialist Talent Identification staff working in partnership with the NGB’s, implementing tailored programmes to detect and build greater stockpiles of World Class talent for the high-performance pipeline.
GB Canoeing have been quick to praise the programme and indeed the value of extending the search for those who have the potential to be world class.
“The progress of Rachel Cawthorne is proof of the value of running talent identification programmes within sprint kayaking, and the role of physiological profiling as an early indicator of potential performance,” said Anne Ferguson, Programme Manager for the BCU World Class Directorate. “Rachel was picked up at 15 as having some of the necessary attributes to become successful in the sport. Since then she has gone on to win three medals at the Australian Youth Olympics, and has competed at two senior World Cups and a European Championships at still only 18 years of age.”
The scientific approach of identifying talent involves a series of rigorous assessments and filters to detect individuals that have ‘higher probability’ for podium success. It’s not a fool proof system and there are no guarantees – only opportunities and choices to work with those more likely to achieve success. A group of female athletes embarked on one such opportunity in sprint kayaking earlier this year:
There was a particular interest in recruiting ‘ready-made’ athletes that could transfer from ‘like’ sports – such as those retired or nearing retirement from sports including swimming, rowing and surf-lifesaving. In December, a targeted campaign was launched to create awareness of the fast-track programme and encourage online registrations, through posters, website promotion and attendance at events such as the BUSA Swimming Championships and the British Indoor Rowing Championships.
Natalie Dunman, Talent ID Coordinator at the EIS commended the support provided by coaches from the other sports.
“Both British Rowing and British Swimming were very supportive of what we were doing at this stage – realising the value in working with us to provide opportunities for the transfer of talent that perhaps wasn’t quite right for their sports across to sprint kayaking,” said Dunman.
From those who registered an interest online, a select group of 65 were chosen to go through to the Phase 1 Talent Assessment Day held at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham. This phase sought to identify those who had not only the physiological attributes but also the commitment, attitude and desire to become an elite athlete.
Twenty two athletes were chosen to go through to the second phase of talent assessment – a multidisciplinary screening process including further physiological evaluation alongside physiotherapy, functional movement and psycho-social analyses.
Eleven athletes have successfully progressed through to a Talent Confirmation training period –focusing on the acquisition and development of the skill of sprint kayaking and beginning to appreciate the life of an elite athlete, the challenges and the unquestioning commitment required to achieve World Class success.
Beginning tomorrow (3 July), these talented athletes will have the opportunity to demonstrate their aptitude for the sport of sprint kayaking and their ability to acquire the skills necessary to become truly World Class, closely monitored by GB Canoeing coaches and GB Canoeing/EIS sports scientists along the way. All concerned are looking forward to this exciting step in further exploring the athletes’ potential to develop as elite sprint kayakers towards London 2012.