Canoe Slalom Takes Another Step Forwards in Asia

It’s been a long 14 years since German-born Hermann Husslein first paddled for Thailand, but on the eve of the 2017 Asian Canoe Slalom Championships, he knows it’s a journey which has helped set the country on a path to sporting success.

In that time he made his, and Thailand’s, canoe slalom Olympic debut in London 2012. It was a turning point - one of many - for his country.

This weekend Thailand is hosting the Asian Championships at the Kundanprakarnchon Dam. In 2019 it is hoping to host the Asian Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers - but not at the sprawling dam.

By then Thailand should be home to one of the newest purpose-built canoe slalom course in the world.

“Slalom was always a bit at the back, but after qualifying for the Olympics in 2012, it was the push we needed for the Federation to get more funding to help develop the sport more in Thailand,” Husslein said.

“So now to be hosting the Asian Championships, it’s sent a message that Thailand is serious. There might have been some who thought it was a waste of money, because in Europe they can not understand how it has taken so long to get everything set up.

“It’s taken more than ten years, but now we have nearly arrived. We can have a real structure and go to the World Cups.

“And now we have the green light to go ahead and build a new course. We asked for US$3 million, and we’ve been given US$4 million. It should be built by the middle of 2018, so for sure I’m pretty happy about that.”

It’s a far cry from 2003, when Hermann Husslein basically was canoe slalom in Thailand. And at the time, the program was based more in Germany than Thailand.

Now canoe slalom is stirring across Asia, helped in no small part by the International Canoe Federation’s Talent Identification and Expand and Extend programs.

This week there are 16 potential future Olympians taking part in a TIP program being run by Husslein and the ICF’s Pierrick Gosselin. The two have been there from the start, and watching athletes from Iran, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Nepal gives Husslein a deep sense of satisfaction.

“It’s nice to have these athletes from the developing nations,” he said.

“For me it’s something special, because I was one of the first people involved in the TIP with Pierrick.

“So I have a special affinity with it. The program is a bit more organised than it was before. Now we have three coaches, which means the groups can be smaller.

“The quality of racing in Asia is getting higher and higher. There’s a lot of input by foreign coaches, a lot of European influence. But some of these countries are dominated by corruption, so it doesn’t make it easy for foreigners to work in there.”

One of the positives this weekend is the addition of junior and U23 categories. While the rest of the world has been nurturing their juniors for decades, its still a relatively new concept for Asia.

“I think this will still take quite a long time,” he said.

“You still need a real structure and training to get into this sport. You can’t compare it with flatwater racing, where it is easier to reach a higher quality of racing.

“And in the end it is all about the medals; it doesn’t matter which country, but in the end the medals help to get the funding, and that’s what the nations are seeking for.”

The Asian Canoe Slalom Championships begin on Friday and run through until Sunday.

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