Eight different nations filled the top ten positions in the junior men’s canoe freestyle preliminary round in Nottingham on Thursday, underlining the global spread of a discipline celebrating its first world championships since 2019.

Three of the strongest freestyle nations on the planet, France, Canada and the United States, will have no athlete in the semi-finals; host nation Great Britain will have just the one. Instead, athletes from New Zealand, Finland, Austria and Japan are among the top ten heading to Friday’s round.

“Thursday’s results confirm what we have known for some time, that canoe freestyle is growing in popularity around the world,” ICF freestyle committee chair, Terry Best, said.

“These athletes are the future of our sport, so to have eight different nations represented in the semi-finals is very exciting. And when you see powerhouse nations like USA and France missing the next round, it underlines just how even competition is now.

“We also had athletes from Slovenia, Poland and Australia, so canoe freestyle is alive and well.”

Germany’s Tim Rees posted the top qualifying score of 2576.67, with Great Britain’s Ben Higson second on 2155, and Japan’s Nanase Okazaki third with 1650 points.

“I’m from the south of Germany, between Stuttgart and Munich. I usually train on the flatwater, but on holidays I travel quite a lot to the UK, France and Spain to try and get in some training.

“It’s not as good and not as much fun as paddling in a hole. You can learn the basics on the flat, and then you can put it in the hole, it takes a lot of technique. But the big big training has to be in the hole.

“It looked fun. I used to be a slalom athlete, but after two or three years it wasn’t that much fun anymore, and I saw some people from my club doing freestyle, and I thought ‘wow, that’s cool, I really want to do that’.

“I tried it and it was so much fun, so I want to continue with freestyle.”

Paddlers from Ireland and New Zealand rounded out the top five, while Spain, Austria and Finland will also have athletes in the semi-finals.

15-year-old Australian Alex Cook was competing at his first world championships since taking up the sport in January.

He didn’t make the semi-finals, but he didn’t seem to mind. This trip was a learning experience, and now he can’t wait to get home and put into practice some of the tricks he learned in Nottingham.

“It was so much fun, I couldn’t stop smiling,” Cook said.

“I came here to have fun, so no matter what happened, it would be alright. That took the pressure off.

“I didn’t even know you had this (the world championships) actually. Then I heard about it and started watching videos and it looked real fun.”

Pics by Bence Vekassy

Australia Alex Cook freestyle Nottingham 2022

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