Danish paddler Rene Holten Poulsen is set to compete at a fourth Olympic Games while several athletes will get the chance to compete at their first after a dramatic day of canoe sprint qualifying in Hungary on Thursday.

Poulsen, who made his debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning K2 silver, also competed in London and Rio, but failed to qualify for Tokyo. In Szeged on Thursday afternoon he turned back the clock and silenced the doubters by winning one of two European Olympic quotas available in the men’s K1 1000.

“Today was really hard mentally to try and enjoy it, because you know it might be your last race so you can’t enjoy it,” Poulsen said.

“It’s been a very long journey for me, a lot of mental battles, a lot of battles within the federation. Going off on my own, it’s been a long fight.

“It’s really cool to be at the end of it and to start to enjoy it again.”

Czechia paddler Anezka Paloudova and Italian Nicolae Craciun are set to compete in their first Games, after earning quotas in the women’s K1 500 and the men’s C1 1000 respectively.

Paloudova said it was hard to bounce back from the disappointment of not winning a quota at last year’s ICF World Championships in Duisburg.

“I can’t believe what has happened, it will take some time for me to believe that I am an Olympian,” Paloudova said.

“Duisburg was pretty tough for me, I didn’t do a good race there and I was really upset after my race.

“I really focused then on my mental preparation, and tried to do everything correctly. On one hand it was pretty hard, but on the other hand there wasn’t so much pressure on me, because in the Czech Republic there are much better paddlers in the boys, in kayak and canoe, and for the girls we are getting better, but we are still not on the same level as the boy athletes.”

Craciun has made his name as a C2 paddler, having won both a C2 500 and C2 1000 world title. But his decision to try his hand at the C1 paid dividends on Thursday.

Italy Nicolae Craciun Szeged 2024

“I never expected this result for me, because I’ve never raced in C1 1000 metres in my career,” Craciun said.

“I did all my life in C2, but this year I had a new goal, I started the season with a preparation in C1, but I really didn’t believe in my form so I didn’t expect when I saw the starting list that I could get better than fourth or fifth.

“I don’t have the words to explain this emotion, because the Olympics was a dream of my family.”

Ukraine’s Mariya Povkh is set to compete at a third consecutive Olympics after winning the women’s K1 500 qualifier, while Hungary’s Kincso Takacs has the opportunity for a second Games after snatching a quota in the women’s C1 200.

Athletes racing as neutral competitors also picked up quotas, although under ICF qualification rules they will not be able to accept all the positions. No one country can earn a 2-boat and single boat quotas at a continental qualifier.

On Thursday Yuliya Trushkina won the women’s C1 200, Aleh Yurenia is set for a third Olympics after winning the men’s K1 1000, and Zakhar Petrov could be competing at his first Games after winning the men’s C1 1000.

Thursday also saw the first day of competition in the ICF Paracanoe World Championships, which is also doubling as the final Paralympic qualifiers.

Pics by Bence Vekassy

Full coverage of this week's events in Szeged can be viewed on the ICF’s Premium YouTube channel. There will be coverage of the 2024 ICF Paracanoe World Championships and Paralympic qualifiers, and the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup.

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You can find all the event details, including schedules and start lists, on our official event webpages.

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