The greatest male canoe paddler of the modern era is about to embark on his fourth Olympic qualifying campaign, well aware of the pressures that go with being the last man standing from more than one decade ago.

Joining him in the high-pressure cut-throat Olympic qualifying environment this week will be a two-time Olympian, returning to her first world championships just one year after giving birth to a baby girl.

The 2023 International Canoe Federation Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships, which also double as qualifiers for next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, will bring to Duisburg, Germany, more than 1000 athletes from every corner of the globe.

Athletes hoping to compete in one last Games will take on athletes hoping to get to their first. While no athlete will directly qualify this week, they will be competing to earn their country a quota for Paris.

Germany’s Sebastian Brendel burst onto the world stage in London in 2012, storming to victory in the men’s C1 1000. Four years later in Rio, he became just the second athlete to defend a C1 Olympic title. For good measure he teamed up with Jan Vandrey to also win C2 1000 gold.

I’ve got the experience which I think will help me

In Tokyo the C1 didn’t go to plan for Brendel, missing the A final, but he teamed up with Tim Hecker to win bronze in the C2 1000. After the Games he pondered aloud if that might be his last Games.

But now he is in Duisburg, preparing to contest his beloved C1 1000.

“I feel really good, we had two good training weeks in Munich to prepare for the world championships here in Duisburg, our home course,” Brendel said.

“I have a lot of experience, but it will be a tough race this year. I’m racing in three categories, the C1, the mixed C2 and the 5000. Once I’ve done the C1 1000 I’ll be happy to race the other boat distances.

“I feel good, I’ve got the experience which I think will help me I think with the younger athletes.”

To most of the athletes who will line up alongside Brendel, the big German was their C1 hero. The Brazilian gold medalist from Rio, Isaquias dos Santos, even named his son after him.

But at 35, and the last man standing from the field that contested the 1000 in London, Brendel feels he has more to give.

“It’s a completely new field, no athlete from 2012 is still racing, just me,” he said.

“There are some new countries in the C1 1000, we’ll see who gets the places.

“I think after the Tokyo Olympics the most exciting thing will be to race in front of the fans and the spectators again. I would say it will be like London, which was a great Games, and Paris will be so exciting if I can make the place and the qualification next year.”

It gives you perspective about what pain really is

Alyce Wood is back at a world championships for the first time since she gave birth to her daughter, Florence, one year ago. A K1 500 finalist from Tokyo, and a K2 finalist from Rio, the Australian has a new focus this year.

“I haven’t raced at a world championships since 2019, so it’s good to be back this season,” Wood said.

“It has been quite a quick journey back, it’s definitely been challenging. But I think becoming a mum, and all the parents out there will understand this, it gives you so much perspective. This season for me has been a lot of work, but it’s been so rewarding.”

Wood is focusing this week on the K1 500, the event where she made the final in Tokyo. But for much of her career the Australian has also raced team boats. She made the K2 500 final with Alyssa Bull in Rio, and has been a regular in the women’s K4.

She said focusing on the K1 gives her control over her own destiny. And she is ready for any challenge that comes her way.

“The girls on the team have been asking me which training session is most like childbirth – I tell them childbirth does not compare to any session or race we do,” she said.

“I think it gives you perspective about what pain really is. I think out there you definitely don’t complain any more about what pain is. You won’t see me at the finish line having a cry about that, that’s for sure.”

I feel like a new person, I feel reborn

Becoming a parent is also proving a good distraction for Wood. She said it puts into greater perspective what is important in life.

“It’s really good to be back this season, I feel like a new person, I feel reborn,” she said.

“Florence is the most important thing in my life right now. Obviously I want to de well this weekend, and I’ve got some pretty big goals, but at the end of the day she’s going to be there at the finish line, cheering me on.”

“Kayaking is now not the only thing in my life, family is the most important thing, and it will be forever.”

The 2023 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships begin on Wednesday and run through until Sunday. For more information, please visit the official event website.

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