Fine performances from African and refugee athletes in Szeged, Hungary marked the start of a three-week International Canoe Federation development camp. 

Participants in the ICF Talent Identification Programme (TIP) were given the chance to showcase their Canoe Sprint skills on the global stage as they prepare for the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

Excitement, nervousness and pride were among the feelings expressed by paddlers as they competed at the opening ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup of the season, which was held alongside the ICF TIP development camp. 

Supported by Olympic Solidarity through the National Olympic Committees invited, the camp started on May 8 and will run until May 27, with paddlers moving from Szeged to Poznan, Poland on May 13. 

Refugee athlete Saman Soltani was among those to participate along with several African paddlers including Angola’s Manuel Antonio and Benilson Sanda, Egypt’s Samaa Ahmed, Morocco’s Achraf Elaidi, Nigeria’s Beauty Akinaere Otuedo and Ayomide Powei Bello, Senegal’s Combe Seck and Tunisia’s Ghailene Khattali. 

The start of the camp came just a week after Soltani had been named as one of four paddlers in the International Olympic Committee Refugee Olympic Team for Paris 2024. 

Saman Soltani Canoe Sprint refugee Szeged 2024

Soltani said competing on the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup stage was a great experience as she gears up for her Olympic debut. 

“It was my first-ever World Cup,” said Soltani.  

“The Olympic discipline is the K1 500. 

“I decided to experience the K1 1000 before the K1 500 but I didn’t have any idea of how it would go. 

“Before the race, I had a lot of stress, and I couldn’t breathe properly.  

“I had so much tension.  

“I couldn’t believe this was me and people were telling me to breathe, so I had to overcome this fear. 

“I didn’t do very well in the K1 1000 because of this situation but I am happy that I had this experience 

“It helped me to get a better feeling for the K1 500. 

“In the K1 500, I managed to get to the semi-finals and everyone was congratulating me as it was only my second race and I went to the D final and finished ninth.  

“I was really happy with that.” 

Soltani was among several athletes in the TIP development camp to reach a semi-final or better in Szeged, with Antonio notably finishing fifth in the men’s C1 5000 A final.  

Khattali placed fourth in the men’s C1 500 C final and made the semi-finals of the men’s C1 200 and men’s C1 1000. 

“I have been participating in the ICF TIP camps since 2017 and it has been a really big help for me,” said Khattali.  

“We had great conditions in Szeged as the food, hotel and transportation were all very good and we felt that someone was supporting us, which was amazing. 

ICF TIP Development Camp Canoe Sprint Szeged 2024

“I have now qualified for two Olympics so without these programmes I would not be at this level.” 

Bello hailed the support of ICF Global Lead: Flatwater Sebastian Cuattrin as she aims to shine at the Olympics. 

“The TIP camps are great, and the other athletes have been wonderful colleagues to me and are fun to be around,” said Bello. 

“They are improving my technique and pushing me in training. 

“It was a little cold in Szeged as Nigeria is very hot and I am used to that weather but everything else was very good. 

“The environment was really nice.  

“I love the way they treat us. 

“When I came to this competition, I don’t think I was able to do what I am capable of.  

“But Sebastian told me that you need to tell yourself that you can do it and you are an Olympic athlete. An Olympic athlete does not get tired, they keep on pushing. 

“I told myself I can do it and I believe that at the Olympic I am going to do very well. 

“When I get back to Nigeria, I will put all the teaching into practice so that in Paris I will make Sebastian proud as he’s a great coach.” 

Paddlers taking part in the TIP development camp will have another opportunity to make their mark in the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup when they compete in Poznan from May 24 to 26. 

“I am looking forward to Poznan as I want to beat my personal best and do better than I did at the World Cup in Szeged,” added Soltani. 

“Training is one thing, but racing is something else.  

“I really need these experiences to get better and better. 

“The goal is to do my best at the Olympic Games and then the World Championships.” 

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