Young stars Callum Gilbert from Tauranga and Finn Butcher led the charge for New Zealand at the opening round of the canoe slalom World Cup in Italy overnight.
Butcher, 21, and Gilbert, 20, both progressed through the qualifying rounds to make tonight's K1 semifinals. It's just the second time either of them has made a World Cup semifinal, with Alexandra's Butcher doing it with a slick 92.49sec first round down the heavy Dora Baltea River course in Ivrea to qualify 27th.
"The course here is so awesome - it's big whitewater so I feel right at home, after coming from paddling on the Kawerau River down in Central Otago," Butcher said.
"It's good to get a run like that under the belt for the first run of the international season - it felt reasonably smooth and, although there was some time losses in parts of it, it was clean and fast enough to get me through."
Butcher also credited a recent training block with Kiwi Olympian Luuka Jones and her coach Campbell Walsh in England for helping him get ready for the European season.
Gilbert, meanwhile, was 45th after the first heat - with the top-30 progressing automatically - after picking up three 2sec penalties for touching gates.
He turned things around in the second heat, however, qualifying 8th after a clean run, with the top-10 making it through.
"I was mostly happy with my first run - but there were one or two quite big mistakes that I wanted to fix for the second run," the Tauranga paddler explained.
"The second run was pretty good and I managed to produce a solid clean run which was enough for the semi. Tomorrow I'm going to try keep it clean and smooth, similar to today but it's really cool to have Finn in the semi as well!"
Tauranga Olympian Mike Dawson had a day to forget, missing a gate in his first run for a 50sec penalty and picking up two touches in his second run to put him out.
A missed gate also cost Ben Gibb (Tauranga) in the C1 division, with his first run blighted by a 50sec penalty. His 18-year-old teammate Patrick Washer was 33rd in his first run, with Gibb 41st, while the pair were 14th and 17th respectively in their second runs to miss the semifinals.
With Jones skipping the first World Cup of the season, missed gates also cost the top New Zealand K1 women in their heats, with Jane Nicholas 39th and Anna Higgens 40th in their first runs, and 15th and 20th in their second runs. Nicholas also finished outside the qualifying spots in the C1 division.