17-year-old Italian Francesca Malaguti is about to make one of those important life-changing decisions that confront almost all teenage athletes – sport or career.

But for Malaguti the decision isn’t between sport and career. She is already determined to continue with canoe slalom, a sport she “loves and couldn’t imagine a future without”.

Malaguti’s looming decision is more about how to mix her university studies with a career in canoe slalom. She loves studying, almost as much as she loves canoeing.

“It’s pretty hard, especially now because I have to choose for my university. I really like studying, and I don’t know what to do between choosing an online school or an on-campus one,” she said.

“It’s not that easy. Now I am in high school my teachers are helping me so I can deal with it.

“Despite the results, canoeing is my whole life. I love it, I have the best fun, I have the best friends here. I can’t imagine a future without paddling.”

Malaguti was destined for a career on the water. She lives only a stone’s throw from a lake in northern Italy where, as a small child, she used to look out longingly at bigger kids having fun in canoes.

Eventually she was old enough to go and check it out herself. She wanted to have a good time and make new friends, but then fell in love with the sport, and now never wants to stop.

The only problem is, the water outside her house is flat, and she wants to do slalom. So that involves a regular three-hour commute to Ivrea to train on one of the premiere white water courses in the world.

And there’s another bonus. She gets to train alongside her childhood idol, 2016 Rio Olympian Stefanie Horn.

“When I was little I was always admiring her, because she was one of the best athletes,” Malaguti said.

“So it’s really nice for me to train with her in Ivrea. When I go there it really is a big dream.”

There’s a small but talented band of young female slalom paddlers in Italy who are all hoping to one day step onto the Olympic stage. But there is not a lot of depth, which makes top level racing hard to come by.

“It’s not hard in that there are not that many girls doing slalom, so there is not that much competition,” Malaguti said.

“But obviously on the senior team there is Steffi, who is a really good athlete, so it is really challenging.

“When I arrive here it’s really challenging, because the girls are all really good, and it’s so nice to race against them.”

Malaguti got to have two K1 runs on the challenging Bratislava course on Friday, but did not make the semi-finals of the second ICF canoe slalom world cup.

But she wasn’t too disappointed.

“I have mixed emotions, because I had a pretty good first run until I made a big mistake on the bottom part,” she said.

“So I wanted to have my revenge on the second run, but sadly it didn’t happen because I had trouble at gate number two. But the rest of my run I’m kind of happy, but I know I can race better.

“That’s the beautiful thing about being my age I guess. I am learning all the time.”

Canoe Slalom
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