Pic by Balint Vekassy

There was high drama, upsets and stunning performances on the first day of finals action at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup in Montemor-o-Velho, Portugal.

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Brendel was beaten into silver in the C1 1000 by World Champion Martin Fuksa, of the Czech Republic, and was then disqualified after his boat weighed in 20 grams light.

Ukraine and Hungary both finished the morning with two gold medals apiece, while there were also golds for New Zealand, Cuba, the Czech Republic and a popular hometown win for Portugal’s Fernando Pimenta in the K1 1000, relegating Olympic silver medallist Maxime Beaumont to the silver.

“It’s very good to start with a gold medal at the start of the Olympic cycle,” Pimenta said.

“When you start with a gold medal, the rest should go well. We know now what effort to focus on training and to keep in shape.”

Fuksa and Brendel renewed their rivalry in the near-perfect conditions, with the Czech repeating his heat win over the German with a strong victory in the C1 1000 final. 

Brendel was later disqualified, but this did nothing to dampen Fuksa’s satisfaction with his win.

“All races with Sebastian are a good thing for me because he is an awesome athlete,” he said.

“I’m glad to have a win, and I hope to get better. It’s the first race of the year, and I’m looking forward to this year’s World Championships.”

Ukraine enjoyed double gold in the men’s K2 1000 and the K2 500, with Vitaliy Tsurkan and Oleh Kukharyk, winning the longer race, and Ivan Semykin and Igor Trunov winning the 500.

Tsurkan and Kukharyk narrowly missed qualification for last year’s Rio Olympics.

Hungary has put down an early marker for the new Olympic event of C2 500, finishing first and second in the C1 500 on Saturday.

Virag Balla finished ahead of C2 partner Kincso Takacs.

“We don’t know who is paddling this event, so it’s good to be racing in the World Cups so we can see how everyone else is training," Balla said.

“I hope to be in Tokyo with Kincso, it’s so exciting this is part of the Olympics.”

There was also gold for Hungary in the K1 1000, with 23-year-old Dora Bodonyi.

“I am still young, that’s why I am here, to get more experience,” she said.

New Zealand’s Caitlin Ryan took advantage of the absence of teammate Lisa Carrington to streak to victory in the K1 500. It was her first K1 race at a World Cup level.

“The standard has really stepped up in New Zealand, Lisa has set a really good precedent for us,” Ryan said.

“I’ve recently just changed my training environment, I just wanted to put together all the components I’ve been working on, and i think it came together nicely.”

Cuba’s Serguey Torres and Fernando Jorge made good on their promise to improve further on their sixth placing in Rio last year, winning gold in the C2 1000.

“This is the first time for us to make a medal, so it is very important for us as we prepare for the World Championships,” Torres said.

“I want finish my career in 2020 in Tokyo, but we have many talented athletes in Cuba, but I will try.”

The 2017 ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1 finishes on Sunday in Portugal.

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