18.03.2008 – Graham Croker

While many people will be enjoying an Easter weekend break, Sydney University paddlers Lachie Milne, Robin Bell and Louise Natoli will be striving for Olympic selection in qualifying regattas at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium and the Sydney International Regatta Centre.

Milne and Bell put themselves firmly in contention for Games berths with solid performances at the Oceania Olympic Qualification Championships at Penrith last weekend.

Milne teamed with Mark Bellifiore to finish third in the C2 behind Junrong Shu and Minghai Hu of China and Peter and Pavel Hochshorner of Slovakia, while former C1 world champion, Bell, picked up silver in the event behind current world champion Michal Martikan of Slovakia.

Australian paddlers will race in every slalom event at the Beijing Olympics after qualifying spots in the K1 and C2 classes at the Oceania Championships. But the make-up of the team will be decided after two more selection regattas.

Milne, a Sydney University Sport Scholarship holder, and Bellofiore produced two very consistent qualifying runs to ensure a high seeding for the semi-finals last weekend. They were handed the Olympic berth when the New Zealand combination of Bryden Nicholas and Andrew Robinson failed to qualify for the semi-finals and Milne and Bellofiore went on to finish third.

Two-time Olympian Bell, another Scholarship holder, moved a step closer to competing at his third Olympics after a great final run in the C1, when he distanced himself from fellow Australian Kynan Maley.

Bell finished second to Martikan, who was in scintillating form on Sunday, producing a final run of 96.80 to set the quickest time of the day in any category.

Meanwhile, Natioli finished 7th in the K1. Jacqueline Lawrence (4th) claimed the first round of selection trials for Australia ahead of younger sister Kate (5th), Sarah Grant (6th) and Natoli. Slovakian Elena Kaliska won the event ahead of two Chinese competitors, Tong Li and Jingjing Li.

The second and third round of selection trials for the Australian team will be held over the Easter weekend (22 – 23 March) while the flatwater final trials will be staged at the Sydney International Regatta Centre, March 25 – 28.