Canoeing's stars of the future assemble in Argentina

Persistent drizzling rain did little to dampen the spirits of the more than 60 young athletes from around the world as they prepare for the start of canoeing competition at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Friday.

Athletes had a final chance to test themselves on the Buenos Aires waterway on Thursday afternoon, with competition due to start on Friday and the first of eight medals decided later in the day.

The women’s kayak head-to-head sprint and the men’s canoe head-to-head sprint will both be contested on day one, followed by the women’s canoe head-to-head sprint and the men’s kayak head-to-head sprint on Saturday.

Sunday will be a rest day for the athletes, although they will be given the opportunity to train on the obstacle slalom course before that competition starts on Monday.

Teenagers from more than 30 nations will be competing in Buenos Aires, with nine countries making their canoeing debut at a Youth Olympic Games. Unlike many of the other sports, the canoe athletes are aged 15 and 16, while many other sports have competitors who are 17 and 18.

Host nation Argentina will make its first appearance, along with athletes from Tunisia, Mozambique, Iran, Chile, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Nigeria and Mauritius.

Four of the countries which won gold at the 2014 Youth Olympics – Belarus (2 gold), Moldova, Russia and Austria – were not able to qualify any athletes for this year’s Youth Olympics, underlining the continued growth of the sport worldwide.

To earn their place in Buenos Aires athletes had to qualify through a hotly contested competition in Barcelona. The competitors had to take part in both canoe sprint and obstacle slalom, and their combined results determined who would qualify for the Youth Olympics.

All athletes will be required to compete in both events this week, but there will be individual medals awarded for both canoe sprint and obstacle slalom, and no combined medals.

Germany’s Zola Lewandowski won the slalom event in Barcelona, and has already been in the Argentinian capital for one week.

“I’m very excited to be here, from the experience in the village to the course down here, it is a very great experience,” she said.

“The realization that I would get to be here only kicked in when I sat down in the plane on the way here. Before that it was always just something in the future that would happen.

“Now I’m here, I’m nervous and I’m excited. It’s a good mixture between the two. Everybody is nervous at this point because we have all come this far, and I wouldn’t say there is a clear favourite here.”

Some of the biggest names in world canoeing began their international careers at the Youth Olympic Games, including Jessica Fox, Tom Liebscher, Jiri Prskavec and Jakub Grigar.

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