European paddlers have dominated the opening day of the canoe slalom Australian Open in Penrith, but Australia’s top-ranked paddlers are all safely through to the weekend’s semi-finals.

Australia’s Fox sisters, Jessica and Noemie, qualified first and second in the women’s C1, with the Czech Republic’s Monika Jancova third.

But in the women’s K1, two-time Olympic medallist, Jessica Fox, had to settle for second quickest behind the Czech Republic’s Veronika Vojtova, with another Australian, Ros Lawrence, in third.

Vojtova said it was a thrill to be back racing after a disappointing 2016.

“I was injured last year, so it was a hard season for me,” Vojtova said.

“I injured my arm in the selection event. The Olympic Games is such a big dream for us, so maybe in four years time.”

In the men’s events, Olympic bronze medallist and two-time world champion, Jiri Prskavec, looked impressive in qualifying fastest in the men’s K1.

“I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know if I could keep it going until the finish, but the course was easy at the end,” Prskavec said.

“I’m always really excited for this race because it’s always the first race of the season. There are so many good guys here, so you can compare yourself to the others, and give yourself some thoughts for the rest of the season.”

The Czech finished ahead of American Michal Smolen, with Australian Olympian Lucien Delfour qualifying third.

Olympic silver medallist, Slovakia’s Matej Benus, was fastest in the men’s C1, with countrymen Alexander Slafkovsky and Michal Martikan finishing second and third.

Benus has been a regular in Australia in recent years, his familiarity with the conditions reflected in his strong results.

“I’ve been coming here for the last nine and ten years, I love it here,” Benus said.

“I love this course, here is the perfect conditions for me before my season, that is why I keep coming here.

“After the Olympics I had a lot of things to do. It was a great experience. I said before the Games I would like any medal, i would be happy with a bronze.

“I won a silver, so I’m really satisfied. I had a lot of media at home - Slovakia had only four medals in Rio, so that’s why I had a lot of attention.”

Paddlers had to compete in wildly fluctuating weather conditions on Friday, with scorching temperatures in the morning, and afternoon thunder and lightning, driving rain and hail, and strong winds.

“Today we did have the four seasons in one day, it was pretty windy, there was hail, but it did settle down pretty quickly,” Jessica Fox said.

“But we are an outdoor sport. Rio was very windy, we’ve had races in pouring rain, but it is all part of adapting.”

Fox said it was exciting to compete in the C1, knowing it will be part of the Olympic program for the first time in Tokyo 2020.

“I’m actually looking forward to seeing how the girls evolve and change over the next four years now that it is an Olympic discipline,” Fox said.

“Hopefully there will be some more coaching for them, and more funding. For the girls internationally, some of them struggled with that, while for us in Australia we’ve always had the support of our Federation.

“I think over the next four years, some of the girls are already specialising, so I think it’s going to change a lot.”

Canoe Slalom