The canoeing world may be buzzing with excitement and anticipation ahead of Monday’s men’s canoe slalom final, but the man at the centre of the action is doing his best to remain calm and focussed.

Matej Benus is not prone to sudden bursts of unbridled emotion. A gentle pumping of the fist is often the only indication that the tall Slovakian is happy with his performance.

In Tokyo this week he is coming across even more reserved than usual. He carries with him the hopes of a proud canoeing nation, who are expecting their man to continue a tradition which has seen Slovakia win a men’s canoe medal at every Olympics since Atlanta in 1996.

Benus won silver in Rio in 2016, withstood a fierce Tokyo qualification battle against two of the best paddlers in the world, and is now on the biggest sporting stage on the planet, two slalom runs away from possibly the biggest win of his career.

Benus' impressive profile and Olympic history

On Sunday he set the fastest qualifying time for Monday’s semi-final. It could have been a time to celebrate, even just a little, but Matej Benus is refusing to be distracted.

His media interviews were no-nonsense and business-like, gently batting away questions about pressure and expectations. He knows how much pressure there is, and what people back in Slovakia want from him, but he’s not going to talk about it publicly.

“I don’t care actually,” he said, when asked about dealing with the pressure.

“I know there is some expectations on me, but I don’t think about this. I just concentrate on my run and on doing my best on the course.

“I feel really good, just so hot after the run, like everybody else. I did my best today, the most important was getting into the semi-final, and I did it. Tomorrow is the important day, not today.”

Benus will start favourite on Monday, for three reasons. 1. He is very good. 2. He seems relaxed and focussed. 3. He is Slovakian.

But there are at least three other paddlers who are lurking with intent, each one more than capable of snatching their first gold medal, and certainly just as deserving as Benus to be Olympic champion.

Slovenia’s Benjamin Savsek was actually the fastest man on the course on Sunday, his grip on the top qualifying spot loosened by the faintest of gate touches that pushed his time back by two seconds. The former world champion is at his third Olympics and is itching for his first medal.

Germany’s Sideris Tasiadis, the top ranked paddler in the world coming into Tokyo, was unusually subdued on Sunday, sneaking into the semi-finals in sixth place. The silver medalist from London in 2012 believes he is stronger and smarter in 2021, which will be enough to strike fear into the rest of Monday’s field.

Great Britain’s Adam Burgess, who uses yoga and meditation techniques to deal with high pressure situations, is putting all those skills to good use in Tokyo. He floated serenely down the tricky Kasai course twice on Sunday, levitating nicely into the third fastest position.

Of all the semi-finalists, Burgess is most likely to sleep well on Sunday night – a real positive after a taxing day of racing in hot weather on hot water in the sweltering cauldron of an Olympic venue.

It sets the scene for what should be a gripping day of racing on Monday, which will culminate with the guaranteed crowning of a first-time Olympic men’s canoe champion.

Canoe Slalom