Joe Clarke has a mended shoulder, a fully-functioning wrist and a hunger he has never experienced before as he prepares for this weekend’s ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup in Prague.

Two years from Paris, he’s also reset his dream – to become the first man in history to win two K1 canoe slalom Olympic gold medals.

Now it is a race in two. Czech Jiri Prskavec is the current reigning Games gold medalist. He is paddling in the best form of his career, is full to overflowing with confidence, and looks extremely focused.

If both get to Paris, and Clarke knows first hand that can be a big IF, it could be one of the biggest shoot-outs in the history of the sport. But this is all a long way off, and both have teammates who are more than capable of taking their Olympic spots off them.

History shows that Clarke’s dream of defending his Rio Olympic title came crashing down in La Seu in 2019, beaten by teammate Bradley Forbes-Cryans at the ICF world championships. Instead of a ticket to Tokyo, Clarke was left to watch the Olympics on the big screen at London’s Lea Valley.

My goal is to win two Olympic gold medals and be the first person to do so

With the one-year delay Clarke had an extra year to ponder what might have been. His mood fluctuated, but he eventually found a new passion – extreme canoe slalom.

“Last year was interesting, the extreme was a new event that came in, so I got to give it a bit of time and a bit of focus, and it allowed me to almost forget about the Games that were happening,” Clarke said.

“The great world championships for myself with the extreme gold was the icing on the cake after a tough year.

“Obviously having such great success in Rio, and then hoping to go again in Tokyo and then missing out has obviously re-lit that fire significantly.”

Missing the Tokyo Olympics did give Clarke a chance to fix up some niggling injuries which he’s been carrying through competition. A busted shoulder was repaired last year, and a troublesome wrist was fixed at the start of this year.

It means Clarke comes to Prague, where he competed in his very first world championships back in 2013, in the best condition he’s been in for several years.

“Hopefully I’m all fixed, touch wood, and good to go for another Olympic cycle,” he said.

“I’ve managed to have now a good three or four months of uninterrupted training, which is something I haven’t had since 2019, so hopefully I can build on that and it’s a good foundation to kick off the season.

“I’m an old man now compared to some of those, now that Dave (Florence) has retired I’m the second oldest on the team. I’m certainly starting to feel my age, all the young guys remind of that all the time.

“But I’ve been reminiscing here with my parents, 2013 was my first senior world championships, and it was here in Prague, so nearly ten years on I’m back here again for another race.”

It allowed me to almost forget about the Games that were happening

Like a lot of slalom athletes, Clarke lists Prague, considered by many to be the spiritual home of slalom racing, as one of his favourite paddling venues.

It’s the crowd that does it. Always large, always knowledgeable, and always fair.

“A lot of places you go, they only support the home nation, but the Czech crowds, they support everyone, and that’s what makes it so good to be here,” Clarke said.

And what of this race for canoe slalom Olympic history? In nine Olympic Games, no person has been able to win more than a single gold medal. In Clarke and Prskavec, the sport perhaps has an opportunity like never before.

The pair hold deep regard for each other. This weekend will kick start a psychological campaign that could culminate in a crazy couple of minute in Paris in two years’ time.

“I’ve got huge respect for Jiri and what he has achieved,” Clarke said on the eve of this weekend’s world cup.

“We’ve both got one Olympic title to our name, my goal is to win two Olympic gold medals and be the first person to do so. Now Jiri has one, so I’m sure he is going for the same.”

The opening ICF canoe slalom world cup begins in Prague on Friday.

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