The Paris Olympics may still be two years away, but already some fascinating tussles are unfolding within individual countries for the one available quota in each canoe slalom discipline – and if the results in Krakow are anything to go by, the competition is going to be intense.

Take the men’s C1. In 2019 France’s Nicolas Gestin was crowned U23 world champion. Last weekend in Prague he won silver, and on Sunday he went one better and stood proudly on top of the podium with his first senior world cup gold medal.

Also in Sunday’s final was 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist and teammate of Gestin, Denis Gargaud Chanut. Any questions about whether Gargaud Chanut could qualify for Paris after missing selection for Tokyo were quickly erased by a lightning fast final run, the quickest of all ten paddlers on the course.

But two gate touches, and four seconds in penalties, pushed Gargaud Chanut from potential gold to sixth placing. But his message is clear – he very much wants to be in front of his home crowd in 2024.

22-year-old Gestin now has the momentum, but there is still a long way to go. We’re not even at the halfway stage of this season. And Gargaud Chanut has the experience of Olympic qualification campaigns, successful and unsuccessful, under his belt.

The younger paddler feels he took a big step in Krakow, achieving a target he set himself at the start of the season.

“This year my goal was to learn how to win in a senior event, and now I have done it,” Gestin said.

“Last week my coach said to me there was one step more, so I am happy to take this step today. It’s a good course for me, but I didn’t really feel during the week that I could do that, it was hard for me at the training and I didn’t really feel the water.

“But sometimes with your paddle you can do something great.”

The story goes that for many athletes actually getting to the Olympics is much harder than competing in the actual Olympics. Even at this early stage, the battle for French selection is going to be worth the price of admission on its own.

A win in Krakow won’t do Nicolas Gestin any harm at all.

“It’s really great for me, because last year I was in the final but I was not able to do my run during the final,” he said.

“Now I think I am maybe more calm, and I know the true race is beginning in the final, so now it’s okay and I hope it will be okay during all of the season.”

Pic by Balint Vekassy

Canoe Slalom
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