Ukraine, New Zealand and Hungary have dominated the opening ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup of 2017, winning 14 gold medals between them on the Montemor-o-Velho course in Portugal.

Ukraine and Hungary finished the most dominant nations with five gold medals each, with Hungarian canoe paddler Virag Balla picking up four gold medals to be the most successful paddler of the World Cup.

Balla was thrilled with her performance, especially with the women’s canoe events making their Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020.

Balla and teammate Kinsco Takacs have already firmed as early C2 500 favourites in four years time, after the pair finished first and second in the C1 200, the C1 500, the C1 5000 and then paired up on Sunday to win the C2 500.

“We train in the same team so we know each other well,” Balla said.

“It’s great for us because it is sign that we are training well, and we are in a good position in women’s canoe.”

Ukraine picked up gold medals on Sunday in the K1 500 (Oleh Kukharyk), the C2 500 (Dmytro Ianchuk/Taras Mishchuk) and the new Olympic event of the K4 1000 (Kyrylo Cernomorov, Ivan Semykin, Daniyil Kuzmin, Igor Trunov).

Two-time Olympic gold medallist, Lurii Cheban, has taken over as Ukraine’s team manager, and said even he was surprised how strongly his team had performed.

“This was a surprise for me and my team,” he said.

“But we have worked very hard, with the goal of going to Tokyo to win gold.

“Our team is mostly young, but we have some experience. Our K4, this was the first time we win, ever, but we have more work to do. We will try more athletes, and we will be better at the World Championships.”

The decision of double Olympic gold medallist, Lisa Carrington, to focus just on team boats in Portugal did not diminish the result for New Zealand, with the team picking up four gold medals.

Carrington and Aimee Fisher won the K2 200 and 500 double, and then they joined K1 500 gold medallist, Caitlin Ryan, and 2016 Olympian Kayla Imrie to finish first in the K4 1000.

“We didn’t go out there to win gold medals, we went out there to put in some strong performances and work together as a team, so we are very proud of how it went,” Carrington said.

“It was a little bit intimidating for me paddling with the best paddler in the world, so I was a little bit nervous. But once we got out there it all settled down a bit,” Fisher said. 

The Czech Republic’s Martin Fuksa brought up a golden double, winning the C1 200 on Sunday to add to the C1 1000 gold from Saturday.

“It’s a good start for me, I’m super happy with two golds,” Fuksa said.

“Of course I want to win everything, it is so long until the next Olympics, so I want to live in this moment.”

There was a second gold medal for the host nation, Portugal, with Teresa Portela winning the K1 200, while Olympic silver medallist, Maxime Beaumont, picked up France’s only gold medal for the weekend when he convincingly won the K1 200.

It was a third gold medal at three World Cups on the Montemor-o-Velho course.

“I like this course because I think it is well organised, there is a good competition area,” Beaumont said.

“It hasn’t been really easy for me since Rio, because I had to find a sponsor to keep me going. But now I have a good sponsor to help me, so now I’m feeling good.

“My objective to paddle again is to win a gold medal. I went to Rio to win the gold, I didn’t, so I will try again in Tokyo.”

Cuban triple Olympian, Serguey Torres, won his second gold medal of the weekend when he won the C1 5000, Portugal’s Joao Ribeiro overran K1 1000 gold medallist teammate Fernando Pimenta to win the K1 5000, and Ireland’s Jennifer Egan picked up the gold in the women’s K1 5000.

The ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup heads to Szeged in Hungary next weekend.

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