Australia’s Jessica Fox and Slovakia’s Matej Benus reminded the paddling world of their class on a difficult opening day of the canoe slalom competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

Fox, a silver medalist in London and bronze medalist in Rio, took the first step towards a first ever Olympic gold with a stunning kayak qualifying run, three seconds faster than the next best paddler, Germany’s Ricarda Funk.

Her time could have been even faster if she had not relaxed for the final sprint to the finish.

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“I didn’t quite realise that I had gone into the lead and on such a good time, so that was why I stopped paddling, because I knew I didn’t really need to sprint to the finish for this one,” Fox said.

“I was tired. It’s a physical course, every run, especially in this weather, in this heat, my heart rate soars, it’s a really physically demanding race.”

Jessica's pre-race routine

Germany’s Funk, making her Olympic debut, was quickest after the first qualifying run, and was the only other woman to post a raw time under 100 seconds.

“It’s amazing, I can’t believe that I was actually on the Olympic start line,” Funk said.

“I think the course is going to be really hard. All the girls are good, and Jess, of course, is amazing.”

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New Zealand’s Luuka Jones, a silver medalist from Rio in 2016, was third fastest.

Matej Benus comes to Tokyo with the pressure of maintaining Slovakia’s incredible record in men’s canoe, having won a medal at every Olympics since 1996. But he looked relaxed on his way to recording the quickest qualifying time, almost two seconds faster than Slovenia’s Benjamin Savsek.

“I know there are some expectations on me, but I don’t think about this, I just concentrate on my runs and to do my best on the course,” Benus said.

“The weather is so hot, the water is so hot, so everybody is so tired after 70 seconds, that’s why its possibly a little less dynamic than usual.”

Savsek posted the fastest raw time of the day, but a slight gate touch and subsequent two-second penalty dropped him to second place.

“It’s quite a hard course, especially at the bottom where you need to use more power,” Savsek said.

“I’m just focusing on my run and the gates, and hope to be able to show my best tomorrow.”

Great Britain’s Adam Burgess was third fastest.

More on Canoe Slalom in Tokyo

Scorching temperatures, hot water and a physical and technical course provided challenges for all the athletes, with many expressing surprise at how tough the conditions were. Athletes were required to complete two qualifying runs, with their best time being used to determine the field for the semi-finals.

The men’s canoe semi final and final will be held on Monday, while the women kayakers will paddle for gold on Tuesday.

  1. BENUS Matej          (SVK) 96.89 (0 seconds penalties)
  2. SAVSEK Benjamin  (SLO) 98.82 (2)
  3. BURGESS Adam     (GBR) 99.64 (2)
  1. FOX Jessica (AUS) 98.46 (0)
  2. FUNK Ricarda (GER) 101.56 (0)
  3. JONES Luuka (NZL) 101.72 (0)
Full results from from Canoe Slalom in Tokyo


Canoe Slalom