Selma Konijn and Ruth Vorsselman were both still around a decade from being born the last time their country had a woman competing in canoe sprint at the Olympic Games.

You need to go all the way back to 1988 to find the last time the Dutch had canoe sprint representatives at a Games. That year, Annemiek Derckx and Annemarie Cox teamed up to win K2 500 bronze.

(Annemarie Cox is now Anna Wood, and was at the course as a coach of the Australian team on Wednesday. Her daughter-in-law, Alyce Wood, called the race on the ICF YouTube channel).

At the 1992 Olympics the Dutch had two men competing. Since then, none. It’s been a long time between drinks for the team dressed in orange.

It seems a little bit unreal to be going there

On Wednesday in Szeged the drought was finally broken, when Selma Konijn and Ruth Vorsselman stormed home to win the women’s K2 500, and in doing so giving their country the chance to go to the Olympics again.

“It’s been such a long time so it seems a little bit unreal to be going there,” Vorsselman said.

“We knew if we did a really good race, it would be possible, so we had to believe in it. But it was also a bit scary.”

“I did believe in it, but it was also scary to say, because it is so unreal,” Konijn said.

Scary indeed. But a victory for a combination who decided a couple of years ago to go all in to achieve their dream to get to an Olympics.

They decided to both move to Rotterdam so they could train together, which required a few sacrifices. In 2023, the year of the main Olympic qualifiers, it looked like the gamble had paid off when they finished fifth in a strong K2 500 world cup field in Szeged.

Duisburg was not our best race

Two weeks later it was a little step backwards when they missed the A final, but then won the B final. The scene was set for a big result at the ICF Sprint World Championships and Olympic qualifiers in Duisburg.

“Duisburg was not our best race,” Vorsselman said.

“We were behind in the B final (they finished eighth), so you know you can do good, but you know you can do bad as well,” Konijn said.

The duo had no choice but to pick themselves up and to focus on their last chance saloon, the European Olympic qualifiers. They couldn’t afford to feel sorry for themselves.

“I don’t think I wanted to be busy with that, we just wanted to train,” Vorsselman said.

“We knew Duisburg was not really a very good race for us, so we knew we could do much better. We just focused on getting better.”

On Wednesday everything went to plan. They finished second behind the impressive Spanish combination of Laia Pelachs and Begona Lazkano in their K2 heat, which gave them direct entry to the final and a decent break in the middle of the day.

They returned to their hotel and found jobs to distract them, like clothes washing and eating oats.

“We wanted to stay busy and not think about the race too much,” Vorsselman said.

In the final Vorsselman and Konijn were watching out for the Spanish again. They set themselves the task of bettering the team from Czechia, a heat winner from the morning, at the start, before settling down for the race.

It’s also a bit unreal to be standing here now, that we made it

To their surprise Czechia dropped back quickly, and the Spanish were also not as fast. As Konijn observed, the final was a different race to the heat, and to what everybody was expecting.

It took them a while to realise what they had achieved. It wasn’t until their phones went into meltdown with excited messages from back home that they understood the enormity of their result.

“It’s just so surreal, because you have nothing before you to train to,” Vorsselman said.

“It’s also a bit unreal to be standing here now, that we made it.”

Full coverage of Thursday's European Olympic qualifiers can be viewed on the ICF’s Premium YouTube channel. There will be coverage all week from the Olympic qualifiers, the 2024 ICF Paracanoe World Championships and Paralympic qualifiers, and the ICF Sprint World Cup.

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You can find all the event details, including schedules and start lists, on our official event webpages.

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