Olympic great confirmed for WhitewaterXL
One of the world's greatest Olympic paddlers won't be competing in Rio next week - instead Slovakia's Michal Martikan has booked himself a trip to New Zealand in November.
Martikan has joined a host of top names assembling for the inaugural WhitewaterXL at the new Vector Wero Whitewater Park, with many more expected to sign on following Rio.
As the only slalom canoeist to win five Olympic medals, including C1 gold in 1996 and 2008, and 19 world championship medals (12 of them gold), a trip to New Zealand is one of the few things the 37-year-old has yet to tick off.
"This is a great event to combine paddle sports and bring the best paddlers from all over the world and an event like this could be the future," he said.
"This will be my first time in New Zealand but my friends were talking a lot about your beautiful country and I am looking forward to seeing the nice new white water course and the beautiful nature."
WhitewaterXL will be the richest canoe slalom event in the world. Most of the world's top K1, C1 and whitewater paddlers are expected to join Martikan, with 2012 K1 silver medalist Vavra Hradilek (Czech Republic) and 2008 Olympic K1 champion Alexander Grimm (Germany) already confirmed.
Hradilek has also been named as one of the event ambassadors, alongside New Zealand's top paddlers Mike Dawson, Luuka Jones and Sam Sutton, and French-Irish paddler Ciarán Heurteau and former French world champion Nouria Abou-Newman.
Jones and Dawson will compete in Rio next week, while Sutton is a three-time world extreme kayaking champion.
More than 100 paddlers have already registered, with event director John Snook expecting a deluge after the Rio games.
"We've had an incredible response already and the calibre of paddlers who've confirmed they're coming is top-drawer," Snook said.
"Obviously Rio is taking up most of the focus for the elite competitors but once that's over and European teams start looking at their off-season training options, we'd expect a flood of entries."
The Southern Hemisphere summer is just one of the enticements luring Martikan down under - Wero's teeming waters are expected to be a magnet for sun-starved European paddlers who will race the WhitewaterXL, then stay on and train.
"The best training for me must be varied and, during our winter and your summer, we are looking for great facilities for practice," Martikan explained. "Right now, there are two places we visit often - Al Ain in United Arab Emirates and Penrith, the Sydney Olympic course - and I would like to find new one. I'm pretty sure that it will be Auckland!"
The WhitewaterXL will feature a week of events from November 20-27,with K1 and C1 events for men and women and the new boater-cross format.