Canoe club is on course for great things

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THE Forth Canoe Club is contributing to Britain's Olympic challenge this summer and expects to play an even bigger part in four years following the recent opening of a new international slalom course at Harrison Bridge in Polwarth, writes LORIN McDOUGALL.

There is a strong tartan presence in the canoeing squad for Beijing with Scots involved in every category.

Crieff's Fiona Pennie and Aberdeen's Tim Baillie will feature, but Scotland's main hope in China is 2004 kayak silver medallist Campbell Walsh from Bridge of Allan, who claimed the European title in Poland last weekend.

Long-time Forth Club member David Florence finished out of the medals in Krakow in the Canadian discipline semi-finals, but he had already secured his Olympic spot.

His enduring link with FCC began more than a decade ago as a 14-year-old Stewart's Melville pupil and, although Florence does much of his training at the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham, he remains a familiar figure at the Edinburgh club.

Florence will be only 29 by the time of the 2012 London Olympics and the advent of the new slalom course means he will be guaranteed top-class training facilities whenever he returns to the Capital.

"Once we had contacted British Waterways for clearance, we built it over one weekend last month and we've been adding bits to it since," explained course manager and former GB international Robert Phillips. "It's an Olympic-style course for white-water slalom. It has all the currents and boulders with 12 regulation standard gates.

"The Scottish Sports Foundation gave us 10,000 and we've bought four new slalom boats and four new sprint boats which cost around 1000 each.

"As well as being a training venue, we'll be holding novice races there and it should be perfect for kids to get started in the sport.

"Hopefully, it'll be a stepping stone for some of them to go on and get medals at major championships. FCC is the oldest canoe club in Scotland (founded in 1934] and one of the most active. We cater for all ages and all disciplines – flat water sprint and marathon as well as wild water slalom.

"We have the facilities now. It's up to individual athletes how far they want to push themselves.

"David has made it this year, but Olympic selection is very difficult – it's the cream of the cream."