Many of the world’s best canoe sprint paddlers finally returned to full international competition on Friday as the ICF canoe sprint world cup got underway in Szeged, Hungary.

After two days of watching the European Olympic qualifiers, paddlers from the rest of the world got their chance to join the competition and to test their progress after more than one year of restricted competition.

The first of the finals will be contested on Saturday, but the scene has been set for some thrilling contests after preliminary rounds on Friday. The men’s K1 1000, which has had three different world champions since the 2016 Rio Olympics, is once again shaping as one of the races of the weekend.

Reigning world champion, Balint Kopasz of Hungary, recorded the fastest time in the semi-finals, but Czech Josef Dostal and Portugal’s 2018 world champion, Fernando Pimenta, also impressed in the perfect racing conditions.

But all three athletes will be watching closely Germany’s Jacob Schopf, who has been given an opportunity to prove himself in the K1 after successfully partnering three-time Olympian Max Hoff to a world title in 2019.

21-year-old Schopf had a relaxed semi-final and is looking forward to testing himself in Saturday’s final.

“I was a little bit nervous before the race, but I’m happy that I can manage this and now I would like to see what I can do in the final,” Schopf said.

“I don’t have any expectations, just to get some experience hopefully for the Olympic Games. We will see. If it is okay what I do here, then maybe, but first I have to qualify for the German team.

“The K2 is already the most important boat for me. Max and I are not only partners, but we are a crew. We are strong together and the K2 is the most important boat for me. The K1, I think it is a little bit for the ego, but I will see what I can do.”

Schopf and Hoff later teamed up to post the fastest time in the men’s K2 1000 and to lock away their place in Sunday’s final.

In other Olympic classes, Germany’s Sabrina Hering-Pradler and Tina Dietze posted the quickest time in the women’s K2 500, three-time world championship silver medalists Virag Balla and Kincso Takacs of Hungary were fastest in the women’s C2 500, and Moldova’s Serghei Tarnovschi was fastest in the men’s C1 1000.

Germany’s three-time Olympic gold medalist, Sebastian Brendel, is not contesting the C1 1000 in Szeged, but teamed up with Tim Hecker to progress straight to the final of the men’s C2 1000.

The fastest qualifers were Cuba’s Serguey Torres Madrigal and Fernando Dayan Jorge Enriquez.

The ICF canoe sprint world cup continues on Saturday and Sunday in Szeged.

Hungary Virab Balla Kincso Takacs C2 500 Szeged 2021

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