Germany v Spain - men's K4 a battle to savour

As a country famous for its precision, it came as little surprise that the first team to master the new men’s Olympic discipline of K4 500 was Germany.

The German transition from best-in-the-world K4 1000 to best-in-the-world K4 500 was seamless, a triumph for canoe sprint planning and a prototype that the rest of the canoe sprint world has been feverishly trying to imitate ever since.

Of course, it helps when you have the depth that the German men’s canoe team can boast. They have a cupboard full of 1000 metre sprinters, of which any could challenge for K1 gold at a moment’s notice.

They also have a handful of very fast sprinters, headed by the indefatigable 37-year-old Ronald Rauhe, a five-time Olympian who is very much the fulcrum of the German K4 and a key to its incredible success since 2017.

Max Rendschmidt and Tom Leibscher remain from the 2016 Olympic K4 1000 gold medal squad. Leibscher is 26, Rendschmidt 25. The fourth member of the crew is Max Lemke, who is just 22. They won the world title in 2017, and followed it up in Montemor last year.

But while they have a 100 per cent success rate at a world championship level, at a European level they have found it a little harder. In 2017, minus Rendschmidt, they finished fifth in Plovdiv.

In 2018, at full strength, they were pipped by Spain in a grandstand finish that left just 0.014 of a second between the two boats. And then in Minsk this year, at the European Games, it was the Russians who snatched gold from the German quartet, again by less than one second.

So the Germans can expect a tough battle next week at the ICF canoe sprint world championships in Hungary. Spain has settled on a quarter that includes the reigning K1 1000 Olympic gold medalist, Marcus Walz, and London 2012 K1 200 silver medalist, Saul Craviotto.

The Spaniards won silver behind Germany at both the 2017 and 2018 world championships, but have the memory of the 2018 European championship triumph to spur them on in Szeged next week.

Russia will take the same K4 that won gold in Minsk to Szeged next week. Artem Kuzakhmetov, Aleksandr Sergeev, Oleg Gusev and Vitaly Ershov are very much the unknown factor in Szeged.

As a crew they are less experienced than most, with only Ershov and Gusev remaining from the crews that contested the 2017 and 2018 world championships. There are also new-look crews from the Czech Republic and Hungary, both consistent K4 international performers.

2018 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Gold: Germany

Silver: Spain

Bronze: Hungary

2017 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

Gold: Germany

Silver: Spain

Bronze: Czech Republic

2019 EUROPEAN GAMES

Gold: Russia

Silver: Germany

Bronze: Slovakia

2018 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Gold: Spain

Silver: Germany

Bronze: Hungary

2019 WORLD LEADERS

Germany

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