The pathway to Tokyo 2020 has just become a lot clearer for four young paddlers, after the canoe sprint season got under way in Rotorua over the weekend.

Tauranga's Taris Harker, Hawke's Bay's Elise Legarth, Gisborne's Britney Ford and Wanganui's Max Brown are the new faces in Canoe Racing New Zealand's high performance squad, along with Christchurch bolter Ben Duffy.

While Duffy didn't make the trip north, the other four used the annual Blue Lake 1 Regatta at Tikitapu to gauge where they're at.

Making the 10-strong female high performance squad, alongside Lisa Carrington and the national K4 crew, meant a huge deal to 19-year-old Legath, who is in her first year at Waikato University studying environmental science.


Without Carrington and the K4 crew, the female ranks were dominated by North Shore pair Rebecca Cole and Briar McLeely.

Cole won the K1 1000m, McLeely grabbed the K1 500m and 200m, then they teamed up to dominate the K2 200m and K2 500m, while Legarth was third in each of the individual finals.

It was a similar story in the men's ranks, where Mana's Kurtis Imrie cleaned up, winning over all three K1 distances, then teaming with Brown to win the K2 1000m.

While Bay of Plenty's Harker has been the steadiest improver over the last year, having formed a solid training unit with Bay of Plenty teammate Tim Waller. That potential helped out after illness hit during the national trial a fortnight ago.

"I wasn't really expecting to get in because I didn't think I performed that well at the trial but it turns out I did enough to get in," Harker said.

"Tim and I have worked really well together, bouncing off each other in the gym and on the water, but the bigger the squad, the higher the level gets.

"I'm really looking forward to the fact there's going to be a lot of us working together under Fred's programme in Auckland, with nine of us all there on the water every day, in the gym every day. That will be great."

Harker finished second in the K1 200m at Blue Lake 1, just 0.46secs behind Imrie, and third in the K1 1000m behind Imrie and another high performance squad member, Ben Tinnelly (Otago University).

Ford, meanwhile, has recovered from a dislocated shoulder that marred her season last year, with the 18-year-old already noticing the step up into national women's coach Rene Olsen's programme.

Joining the high performance squad means she'll spend her days rubbing shoulders with Kayla Imrie, Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan and Aimee Fisher, who finished fifth in the K4 Olympic final in Rio.

Carrington and the K4 squad are expected to turn out for the second Blue Lakes regatta in December.

New Zealand high performance squads:

Women: Aimee Fisher, Briar McLeely, Britney Ford*, Caitlin Ryan, Elise Legarth*, Jaimee Lovett, Kayla Imrie, Kim Thompson, Rebecca Cole, Lisa Carrington.

Men: Ben Tinnelly, Benjamin Duffy*, Craig Simpkins, Jaimie Banhidi, Kurtis Imrie, Marty McDowell, Max Brown*, Taris Harker*, William Wilkins.
* = new squad member.