Kayaking: Jones left dizzy by monster course

By Daniel Gilhooly

If you've wondered what it's like to be put through a washing machine, just ask New Zealand Olympian Luuka Jones.

A handful of training runs through the brutal kayak slalom course in Shunyi has left Jones dizzy with anticipation about her historic appearance next week.

The first New Zealand woman to compete in the event at an Olympics, Jones was excited enough about coming to Beijing before she had even dipped her paddles in the monster 280m custom-built course.

"It's definitely full on. It's technical and it's also very physical because the water is really big and demanding," Jones told NZPA after a training run yesterday.

"You've always got to be on the ball. I like the course because you have to be able to read the white water and handle it to your advantage."

The U-shaped course enclosed by seating for 3000 people is actually shorter than your typical slalom arena but that's where the design generosity ends.

The most noticeable thing to a layman is that much more of the water is wild and white than clear.

Paddlers are reduced to rag doll status in some parts yet they are expected to negotiate 25 gates - some upstream - in less than two minutes, all the time conscious that time penalties accrue for touching or missing gates.

It is a giant contrast from the relatively flat course in Nottingham where Jones has been based with the British national team for 15 months.

However, the 20-year-old Tauranga paddler didn't think she would be disadvantaged.

"From all the girls that I've watched, all of them are doing good stuff and not so good stuff," she said.

"The water is so unpredictable, everyone seems to be having a hard time on it at some point.

"It's so easy to miss a gate and get a 50-second penalty so some of the big names could be missing out on the semis, definitely. It's going to come down to the day."

Jones and her British-based coach Tim Baillee only have three more hour-long slots to get things right before the heats on Wednesday next week.

"With so many features here there's a lot to take in but I think we've done quite well. I'm slowly getting there."

Ranked outside the world top 50, she may well be the first of 21 paddlers on the course, with the heat order determined by reverse rankings.

About 16 paddlers will qualify for the semifinals the following day, with 10 to contest the final.

Jones placed 36th overall after seven rounds of World Cup action to earn the sole Oceania Games berth and openly admits the 2012 London Olympics are a more realistic stage for her to challenge the big guns from Europe.

However, she wants to put on a quality performance in front of parents Rod and Denise, who arrive on Sunday.

They had only seen her compete at low-key events in New Zealand, nothing like the threshing machine she will be put through at Shunyi.

"I don't think they have an understanding of how big this race is going to be," she said.

- NZPA

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