2016 Rio gold medalist Joe Clarke took his first step towards returning to the Olympic Games with the quickest qualifying time on the opening day of the International Canoe Federation’s Canoe Slalom and Kayak Cross World Cup in Augsburg on Thursday.

Ukraine’s Viktoriia Us was one of just a handful of paddlers in the women’s K1 to tame the difficult Augsburg course, posting a clean run to finish in the number one qualifying position. Us was the only female paddler to go under 100 seconds, clocking in at 99.92 to finish 0.48 seconds ahead of Germany’s Elena Lilik.

Great Britain’s Clarke missed selection for the Tokyo Olympics after winning K1 gold in Rio, but began his 2024 Olympic qualifying campaign with an error-free run in Thursday’s heats to post a time of 87.78.

Clarke became a father for the first time in January, and said it had given him a new outlook on slalom racing.

“This is my first proper time away from home since then, so this one is for Hugo, it feels good, and my wife has been so supportive, so it was partly her performance out there today,” Clarke said.

“It puts things into perspective, makes you realise it’s not all about canoeing. We live in this bubble year round, it’s all about performing, this make it a lot more than that. When I’m away it’s made me more focussed because every day I’m away from him is hard work because I’m missing him loads.

“We don’t need to talk about Tokyo anymore, it’s in the past and we’re looking to the future, and that’s Paris. That’s the first run to start the campaign almost, so a strong start, but there’s plenty more to go.”

Defending Olympic champion Jiri Prskavec posted the fastest raw time of 86.52, but the Czech picked up a two-second penalty to put him just behind Clarke’s time. Austrian Felix Oschmautz was third fastest in 88.88.

Germany’s reigning Olympic and world champion, Ricarda Funk, posted the fastest raw time in the women’s competition of 98.76, but a gate touch and a two-second penalty pushed her down to third.

Czech Antonie Galuskova also posted a clean run to sit in sixth position.

“The course was pretty tough and kind of tricky, but I liked it,” she said.

“We know it’s going to be kind of the same for the semi-finals and the finals, so I’m really happy I managed to come down the course with a nice run.”

The first medals of the Augsburg World Cup will be decided on Friday evening, with finals in both the men’s and women’s K1.

Pics by Dezso Vekassy

Ukraine Viktoriia Us Augsburg 2023

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