DARTMOUTH, N.S — Richard Dalton, Ben Russell and their teammates are forcing their way into the limelight at the world canoe and kayak championships.
While Adam van Koeverden was winning one semifinal and finishing second in another, it was the Canada’s four-man canoe team that provided the biggest thrill to fans lining the shores of Lake Banook on Friday.
Racing in the 1,000-metre semifinal a day after they were fourth in a qualifying heat, the Canadian C-4 team surged across the finish line to the roaring crowd’s delight, nipping a Russian crew by a 10th of a second to take top spot and secure a berth in Saturday’s final.
“Any time you come across the line first at the worlds — heat, semi or final — it feels good,” said Dalton, the Halifax paddler who raced in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and is a two-time world medallist.
“I think we felt after the heat there were a couple of adjustments to help get us in the hunt a little better the next time out and today was the test to see if we could do it and I think we succeeded very well. Now it’s time to race for the medals tomorrow.”
Dalton and Russell, the 21-year-old from Dartmouth whose older brother Andrew is also a member of the national team, are paired up with Thomas Hall of Pointe-Claire, Que., and Ian Mortimer of Ottawa, two paddlers with a wealth of international experience.
But they’re racing together as a team for the first time and still getting to know each other, said Dalton, who at 29 is the oldest of the quartet.
“We’re putting the pieces together one step at a time and I think certainly it’s just putting everything together in the right order at the right time, so today was better than yesterday but naturally tomorrow we’re going to be even better so we’re feeling really excited,” said Dalton.
Russell said the foursome will have to reach yet another level to compete against the top teams in the final.
“We need to step it up one more time but each time we race, we learn a bit about ourselves and about how we want to race as a crew and so we’ll make a few adjustments — minor adjustments — tonight and we’ll be coming out revved to go tomorrow.”
At the end of Friday’s semifinals, Canadians had secured entries in 10 finals — seven on Saturday and three on Sunday — with more heats and semifinals Saturday afternoon in 200-metre races to determine the rest of Sunday’s field.
Van Koeverden — who won a gold medal in the K-1 500-metres and a silver in the K-1 1,000-metres at the 2007 worlds in Germany — won his K-1 1,000-metre semifinal Friday morning and used a late push in the afternoon K-1 500-metre semi to slip into second place.
After his 1,000, he said he was focusing on the next event, but admitted he preferred to race in the morning.
“I like that better than having an afternoon final, so you don’t have to sit around all day wondering about how it’s going to go.”
Mark Oldershaw, van Koeverden’s pal from the Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville, Ont., is also a double finalist after winning his C-1 500-metre race and placing third in a tight C-1 1,000-metre semifinal that included defending world and Olympic champion Attila Vajda of Hungary.
“He’s the man to beat right now,” said Oldershaw, 26. “I feel confident I can go with him and I’m gonna try. I’m not gonna go out there to try to come second, I’m gonna try to go for the win so you gotta go with those guys.”