Locals combine to take on the world
By STEVE SPINKS
BYRON BAY Olympic kayakers Nathan Baggaley and David Rhodes have put a year of antagonism behind them and joined forces for an assault on the K2 500m world championship.
They raced at Penrith yesterday in a Grand Prix event which doubles as the first selection regatta for the Australian team heading to Croatia in August.
The pair won their heat and will contest the final tomorrow.
Baggaley and Rhodes, high school friends, had a difficult personal year when the heat of Olympic selection was brought to bear on their friendship.
"We've trained and lived up at the Gold Coast together for the past few years," Baggaley told The Northern Star yesterday.
"His partner and my partner retired last year so we decided to get back and train together.
"Last year we had a few battles that we went through in regard to selections.
"But we got back on talking terms, cleared the air and we discussed doing pairs. It's the best result for ourselves ... he's the best partner going around at the moment, so I jumped at it."
Their friendship was put to the test early last year when Baggaley and his partner, Clint Robinson, protested over Rhodes' and his partner Daniel Collins' selection as the Australian K2 1000m combination for the Olympic Games.
The protest was eventually dismissed, but not before making national headlines.
Rhodes and Collins finished an agonising fourth in Athens, while Baggaley won dual silver medals in the K1 500m and the K2 500m with Robinson.
"For our first race together it felt really strong and stable," Baggaley said.
Both paddlers qualified for the individual semi-finals today and tomorrow in the K1 500m and K1 1000m, while Baggaley and young partner Reece Baker from WA have qualified for the K2 1000m.
Rhodes and his new K2 1000m partner, Tim Jacobs, of Sydney, were finding out late last night if they would race in the semi-finals.
"David and his partner were a late entry," Baggaley said. "But the paper work didn't go through."
The individual and teams 1000m races will be completed today, with the 500m races tomorrow.
The second selection trial, in Sydney from March 22 to 26, will double as the Australian titles.