When Eleftheria Kaminari was just two years old the Olympic Games came to her town.

Obviously she has no memory of the 2004 Athens Olympics, but her parents have told her lots of stories about the excitement of watching the best athletes in the world competing in their city.

And her father, who had a senior role in sport at the time, collected lots of memorabilia which his daughter now has tucked away in her bedroom, serving as an inspiration as she begins her journey to one day competing at the Olympic Games herself.

Eleftheria Kaminari is now 19. This week she joined 16 other coaches and athletes at an ICF development camp in Szeged, Hungary, learning skills they hope will help them achieve their own Olympic dreams, if not this year in Tokyo, certainly in Paris in 2024 or Los Angeles in 2028.

The ICF development camps have an enviable record of taking athletes from corners of the globe where there are limited resources and infrastructure, and making them into competitive international paddlers.

Kaminari is hopeful she will join the list. Canoe sprint is not a big sport in Greece, but there is no shortage of places to paddle. Like any sport, success breeds success, and there is no better stage to showcase how exciting a sport is then the Olympic Games.

I think if you want it enough and you love it, you can find a way to do both

“Szeged is a great place to have canoeing experience, and I hope that in the future I will be much stronger and maybe I will take the chance to go to the Olympics,” Kaminari said.

She started paddling casually on rivers and waterways with her mother when she was about eight, and fell in love with the feeling of being on the water.

Eventually the casual paddles became more serious, and when it became obvious she had some talent, Kaminari began training harder.

Like many young athletes, Kaminari is having to balance her love for her sport with work and study. She has devoted most of the past year to her university work, where she is studying business economics, but even on her busiest days she has tried to make time to paddle.

After this week I feel stronger, everyone who is here now feels stronger.

“It’s really hard because you have to make a combination between the lessons and the training, but I think if you want it enough and you love it, you can find a way to do both,” she said.

“It’s not a big sport in Greece, which is why it is so good to be able to take part in this ICF development camp.

“We are trying to get more and more kids to come to our clubs to do canoe sprint or canoe slalom, and I think in the future we will be able to do much more.”

The camp has taught Kaminari the importance of discipline, and she has also taken the opportunity to soak up all the information she can about how other teams train and prepare. And being around athletes who are already confirmed for Tokyo has a habit of rubbing off on other competitors.

“It’s the biggest dream, it’s a hope,” she said.

“In the future I will be ready. Covid has made everything difficult, and we have been confused about the future. But after this week I feel stronger, everyone who is here now feels stronger.”

The ICF canoe sprint and paracanoe world cup and Olympic and Paralympic Games qualifiers continue in Szeged until Sunday.

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