The two biggest names in women’s canoe sprint of the modern era will go head-to-head in Tokyo on Thursday for what is likely to be one of the highlights of the Olympic programme.

Hungary’s Danuta Kozak will be aiming for a third consecutive K1 500 Olympic gold, while New Zealand’s Lisa Carrington is hunting her third gold medal for this week as she strives to become the most successful sprint athlete of all time at a single Olympics.

Like a pair of prizefighters, neither really wanted to focus on the other after Wednesday’s heats. But the rivalry runs deep, and there is more at stake than usual on Thursday.

“No I don’t look forward to any race, after the Olympics I will see everything,” Kozak said.

“I just hope that Danuta and all my competitors out there are going to be able to turn out their best. I think it would be amazing if we all could just paddle super fast,” was Carrington’s take on the match-up.

In 2016 Kozak won three gold medals, making her just the second canoe sprint Olympian in history to achieve that milestone. The only other was another New Zealander, Ian Ferguson, way back in 1984.

Official Results from Tokyo 2020

So tomorrow the Hungarian stands in between Carrington and her shot at matching her record. The 500 has been Kozak’s race since London in 2012, collecting three world titles to go with her two Olympic gold medals.

But in 2019, the last world championships to be contested before Tokyo, Carrington took the crown, with Kozak relegated to bronze. And then on Tuesday in Tokyo Carrington and Caitlin Regal also beat Kozak and Dora Bodonyi in the women’s K2 500 final, one of the three events Kozak won in Rio.

And even getting to Tokyo has presented challenges for 34-year-old Kozak.

“Last night I didn’t sleep well, because yesterday I was very disappointed, but I know this race well and now I am good,” Kozak said.

“I am happy I am even here, because last year I had an injury in my back, and I didn’t know if I could kayak any more or if I could go to the Olympics. But I am here, so I am happy.”

Carrington won bronze behind Kozak in the K1 500 in Rio, but she has had a lot more experience over the distance since then, culminating in the 2019 world title win.

And she said despite Tuesday’s punishing schedule, when she had to race four times in the scorching Tokyo heat, she had little difficulty getting back into the groove on Wednesday.

“Not too hard to be honest,” she said.

“This was always in the plan, and I think it is just going through the process. It was really nice to get back out there and do the 500, looking down the course and having to paddle all that way by myself, it was just good to get a feel for it.

“I think they all have great challenges. The 500 is an amazing event, it requires fitness, speed, power, all those kinds of things and a huge amount of strategy. It’s an exciting race, I’m looking forward to it.”

The women’s K1 500 final will start at 12.29pm Tokyo time on Thursday.

Pics by Bence Vekassy

New Zealand Lisa Carrington K1 500 Tokyo Olympics

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