Luuka Jones determined to build on progress
Luuka Jones will be out to cap her best season yet with a top-10 finish at next week's canoe slalom world champs.
The 25-year-old from Tauranga heads into the event at Deep Creek, Maryland, buoyed by a series of promising results at recent World Cup meets.
Jones said her goal was very realistic, given she recently became the first New Zealander to finish the World Cup circuit ranked in the top 10.
"I've got the raw speed, so if I have a good run I should make the final," Jones said.
"It's also quite good because it's nobody's home course - the Americans don't train here fulltime, so it's an even playing field. Whereas, when there's a competition at one of the venues in Europe, there's always a team that's trained there that has a bit of an advantage.
"Compared to other artificial white water courses, it's got natural rocks, it's out in the country a bit - it kinda does remind me a bit of New Zealand.
"I feel really comfortable in the water there."
Jones said "heaps of little improvements" this season had emerged from an improved training setup.
"I think just focusing on consistency in training, and the work I've been doing with my coach Campbell [Walsh] has been making a really big difference.
"Also being based in Nottingham, and being exposed to training with good athletes makes a big difference as well."
Jones finished 16th in the women's K1 during the last round of the World Cup series in Augsburg, Germany, last month to finish the season ranked eighth - with a season-best result of 10th in Slovenia in June.
Yet she still wants better.
"I found the last couple of World Cups quite frustrating - there were just a few mistakes in each of the semifinals that kept me out of the finals. But I'm really close - I just need to be patient.
"You can be half a centimetre, or a centimetre off line, and the consequences can be huge. You can lose like two seconds in a move by being just slightly off line.
"It's just about tightening up those margins and just consistently being in the right place. In the last couple of events, I've just been slightly in the wrong position in a couple of places and it cost me a bit of time."
Jones said technical proficiency was a major key for success in her sport.
"Every white water course is different, so you've got to have a really big toolbox of being able to read any white water, any course.
"You have to be able to adapt in tight situations, because sometimes you'll be coming up to a gate and the white water will slightly move, and you have to read what the water is doing and react in a split second.
"Basically, if you've got really good technique and you can put your boat in really good positions, then you're going to be fast. Being explosive, and obviously fit, complements that.
"For me, this year I've been really focusing on my technique, because that's what makes the biggest difference in this sport. Having feedback from a coach all the time is so beneficial."
Walsh's regular input has made a big difference, Jones said.
"I began working with him in April last year - since then, I've just been learning so much, and in every session getting consistency," Jones said.
"Campbell is a really top-level kayaker - he's medalled at world champs, Olympic Games, so I'm learning from the best."
Jones this year has her coaching and travel expenses funded by High Performance Sport New Zealand after years of struggling to make her mark with little money.
"It just makes such a huge difference, compared to back in the day when I was travelling around Europe on not much money or with no coach."
There's no prizemoney for individual races on the World Cup circuit, but being among the top 16 nations qualifies her for financial support, while top 10 is Jones' aim for increased funding and to meet criteria to be able to continue her programme.
That programme is designed with the 2016 Olympics in mind.
Jones has to achieve a top-16 nation placing at the world champs to qualify for Rio - "which is fairly realistic".
And while she's intent on progressing quickly, she's aware she still has time on her side. "Some of my competitors are in their mid-30s, so I do have a bit of time.
"Because I only got a coach later on in my career, I've still got a lot of learning to do."
- Waikato Times