N.S. athletes medal at world's premier event for young paddlers

Andrew Billard, Craig Johnson and Ian Gaudet are definitely names to watch in the world paddling community.

The trio of Nova Scotia paddlers all won medals at the Olympic Hopes International Regatta, which was held Sept. 13-15 in Bratislava, Slovakia. The event has emerged over the past five years as the top international regatta for young paddlers to test themselves against the best in the world. This year, 835 athletes from 36 nations took part.

Billard, a 17-year-old from Hammonds Plains, won four medals, including a pair of gold medals in the under 17 C-1 500 metres and C-1 1,000 metres.

"I definitely went over there with high expectations and I would also say I definitely exceeded them a little bit," he said. "Overall, I'm really pleased with the results."

The Grade 12 student at Charles P. Allen High School in Bedford, who is a member of the Maskwa Aquatic Club on Kearney Lake, also won a silver and a bronze medal in pairs races.

Canoe-Kayak Canada

The trip to Eastern Europe wraps up a very busy competitive season for Billard, who also paddled in the world junior championship in Romania, where he won the B division final. He also paddled at the Canadian championships in Saskatchewan.

Combine that with numerous local regattas and 10 practice sessions a week, and a break is in order.

Billard was joined on the 16-member Canadian team by two Dartmouth paddlers, who also brought home medals from the event.

Craig Johnson of Senobe Aquatic Club brought home a gold medal in the under 16 K-1 500 metre race.

"Right off the start, I got out ahead and I didn't really look around too much because I was too nervous," said Johnson, who says he is stronger in the 1,000-metre races.

"I really wanted to make sure I was focusing on myself and not my opponents and at the end of it, I won by about half a boat length."

Canoe-Kayak Canada

Johnson's good friend, Ian Gaudet of Banook Canoe Club, took bronze in the under 16 K-1 200 metres. Johnson and Gaudet also paddled together and just missed another medal as they finished fourth in the K-2 200 metre race.

At nationals, Gaudet won five gold medals and in the spring of this year, he was named the junior male athlete of the year by Sport Nova Scotia.

Team Canada brought home 12 medals

The Candian team brought home a dozen medals from the Bratislava regatta.

"This group of athletes performed very well over the weekend and have provided significant inspiration to paddlers across the country," said Ian Mortimer, Canoe-Kayak Canada's director of development.

The progress of Billard, Johnson and Gaudet will be closely monitored as they rise up through the junior ranks. All three paddlers will be trying to secure spots on future Canadian Olympic teams, possibly as early as the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.