Team officials defend selection policies as Olympic champion misses out

Liam Heath, Adam Burgess, Bradley Forbes-Cryans, Kimberley Woods and Mallory Franklin will be Team GB's canoe squad for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo

British team chiefs defended their selection policy after Olympic canoe slalom champion Joe Clarke was sidelined in his bid for a Tokyo defence, writes James Toney.

Clarke arrived at the recent World Championships in Spain ranked number one in the world, having won the first two selection races.

But two mistakes meant he finished fifth, fractions behind team-mate Bradley Forbes-Cyans, who overtook him by a single point in the qualification rankings.

Forbes-Cryans was confirmed in Team GB on Thursday, with Clarke listed as reserve in the K1 class where he won gold at the World Cup in Lee Valley earlier this year.

"Putting our athletes through a really tough selection process helps them prepare for the Olympic Games," said British Canoeing's performance director Paul Ratcliffe, who won silver in Sydney but wasn't selected for the Athens Games four years later.

"We can only take four in canoe slalom and our policy is clear. We've been through heavy consultation with our policies and selection is really tough and there has always been a heavily weighted system on the World Championships because we want our athletes that perform at the biggest events.

"It shows the strength in depth in the whole team but it's gutting for those that haven't made it.

"I've known Joe since he was a kid and I think the world of him. He's got many more medals in him and we've had conversations about the next steps but I think it's right to let the dust settle. He will show what a champion he is.

"All our athletes have got the talent to be medallists, all have got a great track record and come through our system and it's a pretty strong team."

Forbes-Cryans is determined to seize his chance but knows the pressure will be turned up having taken the place of the Olympic champion in Japan.

"I've hit the required criteria to go the Games. Our selection policy was very clear that bonus points were on offer at the World Championships and I finished right up there with the best in the world," he said.

"The Olympic Games is the hardest event to get too and the easiest to win because it has a reduced start line and not all the best paddlers in the world are there.

"It's been difficult but Joe congratulated me and the champion he is I really respect that. I hope we can push pass this and he can find the motivation to push on with his career.

"Our hardest battle in this sport is in training - my team-mates push me to the absolute limit and I want to represent them all.

"Emotions were running high and there was a lot of noise after the World Championships but I don't feel any more pressure because of Joe winning the previous Olympics, I just want to go out there and do my best performance.

Three-time Olympic silver medallist David Florence – who was seeking a fourth appearance at the Games – also misses out in the men's C1 class, with Adam Burgress preferred.

Former world champion Mallory Franklin earned selection in the women's canoe single, which makes its debut at the Games after replacing the men's double in the Tokyo programme as organisers took further steps towards gender parity.

She edged out team-mate Kimberley Woods for the spot, though she will still travel to Japan in the women's kayak single.

Liam Heath, who won kayak single gold and double silver in the canoe sprint events in Rio, is back to defend his title in the individual event.

Heath won gold at the recent World Championships in Hungary despite the 35-year old admitting just a few weeks earlier he was considering retirement.