FOX (AUS) ready to pounce as canoe slalom enters new era

RIO DE JANEIRO - Jessica FOX (AUS) and Lucien DELFOUR will lead an Australian challenge to the established European order when the Rio 2016 Olympic Games canoe slalom competition begins at Whitewater Stadium on Sunday 7 August.

With several of the sport's celebrated names having either retired after London 2012 or failed to qualify for Rio 2016, there could be a shift in the balance of power in a sport which has been dominated by Slovakia, France and Germany since it re-entered the Olympic programme in 1992.

FOX, who won K1 silver in London as an 18-year-old, is well placed to capitalise on the failure to qualify of Olympic champion Emilie FER (FRA) after her 2014 world title win and subsequent rise to the top of the International Canoe Federation (ICF) world rankings.

"To win the gold medal is the dream," FOX said after training on the tight and technical Rio 2016 course on 28 July. "It's the pinnacle in our sport and to be recognised as an Olympic champion was what I looked up to as a child and it is what I still aspire to be."

World No.4 DELFOUR, meanwhile, is the top-ranked entrant in the men's K1 in the absence of all three paddlers above him in the ICF standings. They include 2014 world champion Boris NEVEU (FRA), who lost out in French team qualifying by 0.6 seconds to Sebastien COMBOT (FRA). World and European champion Jiri PRSKAVEC (CZE) has made the cut, however, and will be aiming to win the Czech Republic's first Olympic Games gold medal in the discipline.

Matej BENUS (SVK) in the men's C1 represents the best hope for traditional powerhouse Slovakia, which has won all seven of its Olympic Games gold medals in canoe slalom.

Two of those belong to Michal MARTIKAN, who also won two silver and one bronze across five Olympic Games from 1996 to 2012 but lost out to BENUS in qualifying, while three went to C2 twin brothers Pavol and Peter HOCHSCHORNER, who retired after winning bronze at their fourth Games in 2012.

"The journey has been hard because we have a lot of good C1s in our country," BENUS said during training at Whitewater Stadium on 3 August. "I've had only five races this year so it's pretty difficult for me (but) this is a dream and winning the gold medal would mean everything."

The C1 waters will be a little clearer for BENUS with the retirement after London 2012 of MARTIKAN's great rival, Tony ESTANGUET (FRA). The gold medallist from the 2000, 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games will be present in Rio, but only as a member of the race jury.

Normal canoe slalom service should be resumed in the men's C2 event, with French pairing Gauthier KLAUSS and Matthieu PECHE heading a strong European field which includes London 2012 silver medallists David FLORENCE and Richard HOUNSLOW (GBR). FLORENCE also races in the C1, the event in which he won silver at Beijing 2008.

The canoe slalom competition begins on 7 August.

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