It’s a world cup final in Paris this week, and while technically it’s the main game, for lots of the athletes charging down the Vaires-Sur-Marne course on the outskirts of the French capital, there’s a bigger prize at stake.

For many, this is the last chance to earn a ticket for next year’s Paris Olympics. The country quota has been locked away, now all that remains is to decide which athlete will earn the right to be back on this same course in less than 12 months.

The tension in the air on Thursday was palpable. Some athletes are so tense they can barely speak. They are competing against the best in the world, but really, they are competing against their own teammates, the athletes they sometimes share hotel rooms with, sit next to on the bus, train together, eat together…

Slovakia, France, Great Britain, Netherlands – the list of countries who are hoping this weekend to finalise their team for next year’s Olympics is long. For some of the athletes, the selection process has been drawn out over the entire season, maybe even the past two seasons.

Others have been going at it for a handful of events. Some maybe just a couple. In the end, it doesn’t matter, the tension this weekend is still the same.

On Thursday hundreds of schoolchildren lined the banks of the Vaires-Sur-Marne course. It provided an atmosphere as close to an Olympic experience as you could ask for. It added to the drama, lifting some athletes to produce superhuman performances, but adding to the tension for others.

By the end of Thursday the Olympic dreams of a handful of athletes were already over. Tears flowed freely, and are likely to continue to flow for more days yet. Unless you have been an international athlete, you could never possibly understand the sacrifices and effort that goes into trying to get to a Games.

Friday will be crunch time for many more. For sure, these hard working athletes will be looking for world cup glory. But more than anything else, they just want to finish in front of the person they sat next to on the bus that morning.

Pics by Damiano Benedetto

Paris slalom crowd 2023

Canoe Slalom