Thirty years after he first paddled down his hometown canoe slalom course in Slovakia, two-time Olympic gold medallist Michal Martikan is ready to show the paddling world he still has what it takes when the opening ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup begins in Liptovsky Mikulas on Friday.

The 39-year-old also wants to confirm in his own mind a goal of a sixth Olympics can be more than just a dream. He missed selection for Rio, after five consecutive Games that brought him two gold, two silver and a bronze medal, but decided to push on for Tokyo, simply because he loves the sport so much.

Martikan was just nine years old when he first jumped in a canoe and tried out the bubbling course just down the road from his house. It was love at first sight, and under the watchful eye of his father and coach, Jozef, Michal Martikan went on to become one of the world’s most successful canoe paddlers and a national hero.

He doesn’t remember much about the first time he paddled the Liptovsky Mikulas course, except that he was terrified.

“I don’t remember exactly the first time, but of course I remember the fear and the whitewater, same as everyone when they begin,” he said.

“But I fell in love straight away, absolutely. My father was paddling canoe slalom, C1, C2. I think the DNA is there.”

His first gold medal came in Atlanta in 1996, made extra special because it was also the first ever Olympic gold medal won by the newly independent Slovakia.

It etched his name in the history books and earned him a Wikipedia reference as one of Liptovsky Mikulas’s most famous residents. But it’s done nothing to calm his nerves, especially when he’s about to compete in front of family and friends.

“I’m nervous every race, even when I’m not in my hometown. I try to handle it, but sometimes it is too difficult, but it comes with this beautiful sport,” he said.

“The crowd here is always perfect, in some parts similar to an Olympic Games. It’s great to paddle here.

“It’s of course very nice when somebody knows your results and experience. But I try to focus on the sport, and on the training. I’m still an active paddler and I would like to be that way for a couple more years yet.”

Martikan has no idea how many times he has paddled down the stretch of water that will host this weekend’s World Cup. The best he can offer up is “thousands”. Some might think boredom would settle in after maybe the first 1000, but with his hand on his heart, Martikan says that’s not him.

“I never get bored, because I am trying to paddle with the help of the water. I’m using the power of the water as much as I can, so I’m not tired,” he said.

“I know so many things about this course, that sometimes I forget something small, and then I’m surprised a little. Maybe a couple of times a month.

 “It’s special because it looks like a natural course. I like it very much. The course is very well built, for me this is one of the nicest courses in the world.”

The first ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup begins in Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia, on Friday and will run through until Sunday.

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