Marathon World Cup set to ignite Belgium's paddling passion

Tom Cremers is confident this month’s ICF Canoe Marathon World Cup at Hazewinkel will re-ignite Belgium’s love affair with the longer form of the paddling sport.

Hazewinkel will host the world’s best junior and senior marathon paddlers, with athletes expected to visit from around the globe, from May 26 until May 28.

You have to go back to the early 2000’s (Cremer believes it was 2002) for the last time Hazewinkel hosted a major international event, so not surprisingly there is considerable excitement about world-class competition returning to the area.

“Hazewinkel has been used as our national canoe training center since then, and also hosts the the national sprint championships,” Cremer, one of the event organisers, said. 

The course also hosts the annual Flanders Canoe polo event, and we also hold a marathon there. So it was time there came a big event to Hazewinkel.”

Given the big event is only weeks away, Cremer seems surprisingly relaxed. But has good reason to be, as the course already boasts world-class facilities and the course owner, Sport Vlaanderen, is working hard to ensure the World Cup is a success.

“The course is the national sprint and rowing course but it is a big lake and not just a few lanes,” he said. 

“It is in the middle of nature so it gives it that little extra. As it is the national center, the facilities are perfect - the finish tower, big changing rooms and a lot of space.

“And there is a road alongside the track, so it will be perfect to follow the race but there is also plenty of space at the supporters area.”

An added bonus, Cremers said, is the close proximity of the course to the major cities of Mechelen, Brussels and Antwerp.

The early signs are good in terms of athlete nominations, with London Olympic bronze medallist, Bridgitte Hartley, and World Champion Adrian Boros among those expected to compete.

With entries still open, there has so far been 130 paddlers register for the event, with big numbers (22 and 45) for the junior and senior men’s K1 events.

It all adds up to an exciting weekend of racing, one which Cremers is hoping will have a major spin-off for the sport in Belgium.

“Canoeing isn't a very big sport in Belgium,” Cremers said. 

“We do sprint, marathon, downriver, polo, a bit of slalom and surf-ski. In flatwater sprint and downriver racing, we have some world class paddlers, but also in marathon we have had our success. 

“Even now we have the feeling that marathon is still growing in Belgium and more athletes find the way to the long distance. So with this World Cup we hope to give it an extra boost.”

The ICF Canoe Marathon World Cup begins on Friday, May 26.

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