Lisa Carrington's K1 absence has opened the door for young contenders at the New Zealand canoe sprint championships at Lake Karapiro that begin today.

After a brilliant 12 months - featuring Olympic gold and bronze medals and last week's supreme Halberg Awards title - Carrington will skip single-boat racing and concentrate solely on team boats for her Eastern Bay club at the three-day championships.

It means fresh winners for the women's K1 200m and 500m titles for the first time in nearly a decade, with Olympic K4 paddler Caitlin Ryan (North Shore) among those challenging over the longer distance.

Ryan's K4 teammates Aimee Fisher (Hawke's Bay) and Wellington's Kayla Imrie will also be hunting titles, with Fisher a warm favourite in the 200m after finishing second to Carrington last year and placing eighth at the German ICF world cup round in May.


Rising North Shore stars Rebecca Cole and Briar McLeely and Poverty Bay's Kim Thompson will be pushing to translate their under-23 prowess into open success, with all three joining Ryan, Imrie and Fisher in team boats during the upcoming world cup series in Europe.

It's a similar story in the men's division, with six-time national K1 200m champion Scott Bicknell not racing this year and Olympic K1 1000m paddler Marty McDowell returning from a long post-Rio break, refreshed and refocused, but without a race since August.

In his absence, young rivals Quaid Thompson (Poverty Bay) and Kurtis Imrie have shared selection spoils, with Imrie in particular eager to take on his Mana clubmate McDowell.

Imrie is part of the new national high-performance squad training in Auckland under coach Fred Loyer and wants to measure the gains he's made over the last two months, having inspiration close to home in the form of his older sister.

"Kayla is a big inspiration to me - seeing her at the Olympics gave me butterflies and my motivation levels are through the roof at the moment. I'd love to see myself there one day but for now I'm just enjoying the process and can hopefully see big improvements for myself and the rest of the open boys on the world stage in the near future," Imrie said.

Tauranga's Taris Harker is also in the high performance squad, having won the under-23 K1 200m title last year and finishing fourth in the open division.

As well has his individual goals, Harker also has his eye on a big weekend in team boats.

"After a lot of endurance training with Fred (Loyer) it will be interesting to see how that helps my fitness through all the racing over the entire weekend," Harker said.

Today's racing gets underway at 8am, with the men's K1 200m final scheduled for late morning and the women's final for early afternoon.