Like migrating geese, flocks of canoe slalom paddlers once chased the sun around the globe, heading south for the European winter to find somewhere warm to ply their trade.

They usually roosted in Penrith, at the whitewater stadium on the outskirts of Sydney where the world’s best paddlers gathered for the 2000 Olympics. The field for the Australian an New Zealand championships often resembled a world championship line-up.

But then Covid struck, and Australia slammed shut its borders. Paddlers had to chase the sun elsewhere.

The world is now returning to normal, and slowly the migration is resuming. This summer athletes from France, USA, Hungary, Morocco and Japan headed back to the glorious Sydney sunshine. The Japanese were there in full force, sending an entire senior and U23 team.

Camille Prigent has come to Penrith to kick off a 2023 campaign she hopes will earn her selection to next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

“I think this is my fifth time here,” Prigent said.

“I love the training conditions here. This course is really good for training, and there are so many international paddlers here we can train with and race against.

“I think this is one of my favourite courses. The main wave is so cool, and you can really work on everything. It’s so nice. For me it’s amazing this course has not changed since the Olympics. When you come here and see the names of the Olympic champions, it’s really motivating.”

Penrith is set to undergo a refurbishment over the next couple of years, in preparation for hosting the ICF Canoe Slalom and Kayak Cross World Championships in 2025. It will also be a celebration of 25 years since the Sydney Olympics.

It will be a chance to show once again how a well designed facility can stand the test of time, and continue providing benefits for a community. It will also be an extra enticement for the geese to return en masse.

Mathis Soudi made his Olympic debut in 2020, a milestone moment for Morocco in its Games history. This year, with the support of his National Olympic Committee, he had no hesitation heading to Penrith for the summer.

“It’s perfect conditions here, we have great athletes on the water, so I hope to be ready for the next season,” Soudi said.

“I come here not just because the course is really good, but also to prepare for the world championships in 2025. And of course the weather is perfect.”

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Kayak Cross
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