For the first time in many years Jiri Prskavec has a nervous laugh when asked how he is feeling about paddling at the ICF World Cup in Augsburg this weekend.

The Olympic and two-time K1 world champion is not nervous about his chances in the K1. He could almost do that race with his eyes closed. What is giving him butterflies in Augsburg is he is about to compete in his first C1 international event.

What started out as fulfilment of a promise he made to himself before Tokyo has, beyond all reasonable expectations, led to him qualifying for one of the strongest world cup teams on the circuit.

In the early days he spent more time in the water than in the canoe, and he could hear the laughter on the banks.

“Before Tokyo, the Olympic gold medal was the only one I didn’t have, and I told myself if I win, I want to try something new,” Prskavec said.

“Canoe was something I had never tried since I was a kid, so it was a new motivation. I ordered my first canoe after the Olympics, and started in the fall.

“I could stay in the boat for about two minutes, and it hurt a lot. I think people were actually laughing when they saw me, but I was getting better quite fast.”

The laughter didn’t last long. His name appeared on the start list for Czech selection races, and that alone is enough to strike fear in the hearts of many paddlers. The big talk inside the Czech community centred around the chances Jiri Prskavec, Olympic and world K1 champion, could actually challenge for a place on one of the strongest canoe teams on the planet.

To put all of this into perspective, while many women have been contesting both K1 and C1 for many years, very few men have tried it. But now a handful of male paddlers are giving both K1 and C1 a go, and in Augsburg this weekend Prskavec will join a very small group competing in both.

“Before the qualifiers I’m actually more nervous about the C1 than the K1, so I’m excited to be able to do my first international race,” he said.

“Obviously I was surprised, I didn’t expect that at all. I wanted to achieve good runs and fight for the team, and somehow take some points off the guys at the selection races. But I didn’t expect to have such good results.”

Prskavec does not have high expectations for the C1 for this weekend. Of course his opponents, so used to seeing him perform superhuman feats in K1, will be nervous. Those who have raced against the Czech in K1 for many years will be watching on with interest.

Just expect, Prskavec said, the unexpected. He is still learning the craft, and sometimes his moves are a little “unconventional”. But what you will see is the broad smile of a 30-year-old paddler who has fallen in love again with the experience of trying something new.

“I’m a K1 paddler and that’s why at some points its crazy what I do. Sometimes its really sad what I do,” Prskavec said.

“But I’m really enjoying being on the water and feeling like a little boy again. It actually feels quite similar to my first season in the kayak, now it’s my first season in the C1 and I don’t know what to expect.”

Pic by Dezso Vekassy

Canoe Slalom