The fight for ten European canoe sprint Olympic quotas got underway in Szeged, Hungary, on Wednesday, as the final country line-up for this year’s Olympics slowly comes together.

The battle for the one boat quota available in each of the 10 races was intense on the opening day of competition, but will lift to another level on Thursday with a ticket to Tokyo on offer for the winners.

Eight different countries will take the fastest qualifier into tomorrow’s finals, including Georgia and Moldova, while the Italians have the fastest qualifier in both the men’s C1 1000 and the women’s K1 200.

Three-time Olympian Rene Holten Poulsen is in a desperate battle to get to his fourth Games, and the Dane was a comfortable winner in his heat of the men’s K1 1000.

He was pipped by Serbia’s Bojan Zdelar for the quickest time, but said he was just happy to be back on the water after a challenging 12 months.

“I had a big mental trauma, which I found out in 2019, so I had time to work on it and spend some time figuring out how to solve it, and how to work with it,” Poulsen said.

“So both physically and mentally it’s been great for me. I think everybody is a bit nervous, because nobody has been competing. Because it’s been such a long time since we had international competition, we don’t know where we are compared to everyone else.”

Watch a video interview with Rene Poulsen here

Portugal’s Joana Vasconcelos posted the quickest time in the women’s K1 500, Georgia’s Mariami Kerdikashvili was fastest in the new Olympic event, the women’s C1 200, and Hungary’s Kolos Csizmadia showed he will be tough to beat in the men’s K1 200.

Italy will be eying off two additional Olympic quotas on Thursday, after 2016 Olympian Carlo Tacchini was quickest in the men’s C1 1000, and Francesca Genzo was very impressive in winning her heat of the women’s K1 200.

On Monday it was confirmed Great Britain would get a second quota for Tokyo, in the women’s K1 500. Deborah Kerr was second quickest in the women’s K1 200, and said the news this week had relieved some of the pressure.

“There’s been a bit of a generational shift on our team, and a lot of us our still pretty young, so to just be out here is really exciting,” Kerr said.

“Yesterday we had confirmed that we have an extra spot for Tokyo, so today is just all about trying to secure another one. This is probably the best I’ve felt for a couple of years.”

Watch a video interview with Deborah Kerr here

In the two-person boats, Moldovan brothers Oleg Tarnovschi and Serghei Tarnovschi were quickest in the men’s C2 1000, Simon Schuldt-Jensen and Morten Graversen of Denmark will go into the men’s K2 1000 final as the fastest crew, and Sarah Bruessler and Melanie Gebhardt have kept German hopes alive for Olympic qualification in the women’s K2 500 with a quick time in their heat.

Pics by Bence Vekassy

Denmark Rene Poulsen Szeged 2021

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