It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, often beguiling – but never predictable.

The race for slalom Olympic quotas kicks off at Lee Valley in London on Wednesday, and while on paper it seems like a fairly straightforward proposition, in reality it never is.

From Wednesday through to Saturday more than 50 nations will be fitting to book tickets to Paris 2024. There will be 15 quota spots up for grabs in both the men’s and women’s kayak, and 12 quota spots each for men’s and women’s canoe.

That’s the easy part. The trick comes when you take into account each country can only earn one quota per event. And each athlete can only earn one overall quota – so for example, if Miquel Trave is the first Spanish athlete in both the men’s C1 and K1, he can only earn one spot for Spain. And C1 trumps K1.

Of course, another Spanish athlete could then finish top 15, and then Spain would need to decide do they use both quotas, or would just one athlete compete in both events in Paris? If the latter was the case, Spain would need to hand one quota back.

Confused yet? What it means is the make up of the final Olympic qualifiers can run deep into the semi-final stages.

To get an idea how it might work, let’s pretend last year’s ICF world championships in Augsburg were Olympic qualifiers.

In the women’s C1, you would need to go down to 18th place overall, which was filled by Slovakia’s Zuzana Pankova, to determine the top 12 teams. There would be no Austria, no Andorra, no Brazil and no China.

(Of course all these countries would get a second chance to qualify at their continental events).

In the men’s C1 you need to go to position 24, filled by Ireland’s Jake Cochrane, to finalise the 12 countries that would earn Paris tickets. Among the countries that would miss out would be China and Australia.

In the women’s K1, given the number of paddlers who do both C1 and K1, you need to dig a lot deeper to fill the 15 quota places. In theory Andorra’s Monica Doria Vilarrubla, in 30th position, would be the last person to earn their country a start in Paris.

In the men’s K1 Spain’s Miquel Trave, sitting 22nd after the semi-finals, would be the last cab off the rank for the top 15. Brazil and Sweden would be among the countries to miss out.

But as I said, it’s not of course as simple as that. Some countries will hand quotas back, because they will have one athlete they want to contest both K1 and C1 in Paris. As we saw in Tokyo, when Alena Marx got the call-up just one week before the Games, a lot can happen between now and the lighting of the Olympic flame!

Logo of the competition

Canoe Slalom