French teenager Titouan Castryck does not need to search too far to find people who can give him advice how best to prepare for an Olympic Games.

Castryck’s mother, Anne Boixel, represented France in the canoe slalom at two Games – Barcelona in 1992, and Atlanta in 1996. Like her son, Boixel was a kayak paddler, finishing 11th in Spain and then sixth in Atlanta.

“I’ve never talked to mum about the Olympics as much as I am talking to her now, about her career and stuff like that,” Castryck told the Path to Paris podcast.

“But now she is helping me a lot. She helped me a lot before, but now she is helping me to prepare what to expect this summer. I think it really helps to have a mother who has already competed at an Olympics, I’m sure it will help.

“She always told me stories about Atlanta and Barcelona, where there are things that are happening that can totally change your mood, the way you get into a race.”

All valuable insights for a young paddler who began 2023 with a goal to make the French U23 team, and finished the season in a tussle for Paris Olympic selection.

I started to think about it and believe in my dream

“At first I was not thinking about the Olympics, my first plan was to get into the U23 team, because I was switching from junior to U23,” he said.

“So I just wanted to get into that team. Then in the senior team I did a great French selection, and after in the race I was pretty good, so I started to think about it and believe in my dream.”

That dream involved competing in front of a capacity home crowd at a Paris Olympics. It seemed far-fetched at first, but as the season progressed Castryck started to wonder – what if?

Helping his cause was the inconsistent form of some of his French teammates. Castryck headed to the 2023 World Championships at Lee Valley, in London, in the box seat to secure French slection.

But then it all fell apart. The 19-year-old failed to make the final. The only redeeming point was that his main French rival, Boris Neveu, finished further back. But then Neveu put extra pressure on selectors by taking silver in the kayak cross.

It meant Castryck would really need to pull something special out of the fire at the final world cup of the season, on the 2024 Olympic course in Paris.

France Titouan Castryck junior K1 slalom Tacen 2021

In front of a capacity crowd of passionate French fans, Castryck snatched gold in the men’s K1 final. Even though Neveu went on to win the kayak cross, selectors decided it was the teenager who should get the Olympic start.

“In London it didn’t really go as planned, so I really wanted to show that I can fight and show my skills,” Castryck said.

“I knew I had a lot to do in Paris. I knew it would be really hard but I just believed in me. I knew I could win in Paris, and I did it. I knew I had so much pressure for the last month before Paris, so I wasn’t getting caught up in the crowd, I just let the pressure go.

“It was very close between Boris and me. Boris had more medals than me, I had less medals than him. So of course some people were kind of surprised. But my family believed in me. Some people thought I was a better choice, because I can do both slalom and cross, and Boris was really good in cross and not so good in slalom.”

The door is not yet shut on Neveu getting to a second Games. There are three kayak cross Olympic quotas which will be decided at the ICF Prague World Cup, and Neveu had an outstanding 2023 season in the new Olympic event, finishing second overall.

Castryck would love to have another Frenchman qualify for the Paris Olympics, but at the moment he’s just trying to not get too excited ahead of the biggest event in his sporting life.

People told me to really enjoy the moment

“Honestly I don’t think a lot about it right now, but it’s always a dream to compete at the Olympics, and in front of my home crowd, it will be even better,” he said.

“I can’t realise it yet, but I think it will be such a great party and a great race.

“People told me to really enjoy the moment, to take it seriously, but at the same time really enjoy what the event will bring to us, as athletes and as supporters. I’m trying to talk a bit to some Olympians who have lived the dream. I know that I need to handle it like a normal world cup event and see what happens.

“We never live that normally in slalom, it will be hard but we will see.”

I ask Castryck if he sometimes allows himself to dream about what might happen in Paris – how big the crowd will be, how much excitement will be in the air..

And how he will deal with the pressure.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he said.

“I feel as though because it’s at my home course, I know the place super well, and it will help.

“I have two dreams. It’s all about crossing the finish line, in the final I hope. And my second dream is in the cross, if we have two French boats, if we are able to cross the finish line as first and second it will be a great dream for all French people.”

Listen to the full interview with Titouan Castryck on our Path to Paris podcast.

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