It's the Gargaud Chanut and Fox show in Penrith

Olympic champion Denis Gargaud Chanut and World Champion and two-time Olympic medallist, Jessica Fox, have struck an early mark in the long 2018 canoe slalom season with victories at the Australian Open in Sydney on Saturday.

Gargaud Chanut beat an incredibly strong field in the men's C1, while Fox came out on top in the first of what is set to be a fantastic season-long rivalry with Germany's Ricarda Funk in the women's K1.

Fox, a Penrith local, had a convincing win with a clean 103.77 seconds run, 3.47 seconds ahead of Funk. 

“It wasn’t the best run, but it was a solid run and I kept it together top to bottom, so I was happy to cross the line in first place," Fox said.

"It’s a good start to the year and to our selections. For me the results means that I’m selected on to the team for the World Cup and the World Championships in the K1, but I still have the C1 tomorrow (Sunday). It was nice to get this out of the way and to enjoy the atmosphere of this big race.

“It’s early in the season but it’s nice to get a win under the belt and Ricarda is a fantastic athlete. She was the one to beat last year and I’m sure she will be fired up again this year.

"I’m really excited to be again on the podium with her and to see Kate Eckhardt on the podium is fantastic. She’s young, coming up and has now qualified for the Worlds and she raced really well to earn that place.

“This is our biggest race that we’ve ever had here in Penrith with lots of international athletes and it feels like a World Cup. It’s fantastic to have that atmosphere and deal with that pressure in the final on the home course."

Second placed Funk dominated last year’s canoe slalom World Cup circuit before finishing third behind Fox at the Pau World Championships, and her duel with Fox in the kayak was one of the international highlights of the weekend. 

“You always try to do your best," Funk said.

"Jess has won another race, but it’s on her home course so she really deserved it. I didn’t have the perfect run. The beginning could have been better, but in the bottom part it was a really good run. But it was the first race (of the season) so it was a good start of 2018.”

It is the fifth time in Australia for the 25-year old, who normally trains out of the German National Canoe Slalom Training Centre in Augsburg.

“I always really like coming here," she said.

"This year we are here for three and a half weeks and it’s really great for training in European winter, because it’s very cold at home. Here we have the white-water, summer and it’s great to get some feeling in the boat before the European season.”

With the battle between Fox and Funk somewhat predicted it was Tasmanian Kate Eckhardt who surprised with a strong final run that saw her finishing third ahead of 2015 World Champion and 2018 Oceania Champion Katerina Kudejova (CZE) in fourth. Eckhardt also took the win in the U23 category. 

“I was super happy with my run. I attacked the way I’ve been trying to do and it felt really good to be able to put together a run that I am happy with,” Eckhard said.

“It’s really been an amazing event. There are so many of the top ranked people here from around the world and it’s almost like a World Cup. Its really good competition and I’m stoked to get the result I did.”

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Some of the biggest names in world slalom are contesting the 2018 Canoe Slalom Australian Open at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium and it was the international paddlers, who dominated the men’s C1, with Rio 2016 Olympic champion Denis Gargaud Chanut from France taking home the win. 

Chanut had a clean run and a finishing time of 98.68 that saw him 1.01 seconds ahead of Rio 2016 silver medallist Matej Benus from Slovakia. Slovenia’s 2014 C2 World Champion Luka Bozic finished third.

“It was an interesting race as it always is in Australia as most of us are not quite prepared yet to do such a race this early in the season and with so many big names in it," Chanut said.

"But its always good to start the season like that." 

The annual migration of the world’s best canoe slalom athletes from the Northern Hemisphere to the Australian summer has been particularly strong this year, with many of the athletes spending several weeks Down Under preparing for another big European season ahead. 

Chanut has been training in Australia since December, and only went back to France for Christmas and the New Year and the birth of his second daughter. The family came back to Australia two weeks ago and will continue to stay here for another two weeks to make the most of the warm temperatures.   

“I enjoy coming here for summer training as Europe is now freezing," he said.

"The field here was very good and it was a good race. I had good run yesterday (heat), and I improved into the final, so I’m happy with the paddling I’ve done here and I’m looking forward to training more to be fitter and better for the Europe summer.”

Ian Borrows (NSW), who finished fifth in the men’s C1 at the recent Oceania Championships in New Zealand, was the only Australian who made it into the top ten final. He finished just outside of the medal ranks in fourth place and 2.61 seconds behind the winner, following one touch halfway down the course. 

“I managed to make the final, which I’m pretty happy about," Borrows said.

"In the final, I took a touch halfway down the course on gate 10, which kept me out of the top three, but I’m sitting in a pretty tidy fourth place. This week has been really good and I’m looking forward to starting the season off with a good result.”

Racing will resume on Sunday (February 18) with the semifinals and finals of the K1 men and C1 women. 

A record number of sixteen countries are competing at Penrith Whitewater Stadium over the weekend, with 269 starters from sixteen countries battling it out on the 2000 Sydney Olympic Canoe Slalom course.

It is the second international canoe slalom event of the year for Australia’s paddlers following the Canoe Slalom Oceania Championships, Auckland, New Zealand at the end of January (Jan 27 – 29 2018). Results from both events count towards selection to the 2018 Australian Slalom Team.

Men’s C1 Final

1. Denis Gargaud Chanut (France) 98.68, 2. Matej Benus (Slovakia) 99.69, 3. Luka Bozic (Slovenia) 101.20, 4. Ian Borrows (Australia) 101.29, 5. Martin Thomas (France) 101.46, 6. Ryan Westley (Great Britain) 102.18, 7. Anze Bercic (Slovakia) 105.19, 8. Kilian Foulon (France) 111.57, 9. Cedric Joly (France) 117.24, 10. David Florence (Great Britain) 149.89.

Women’s K1 Final

1. Jessica Fox (Australia) 103.77, 2. Ricarda Funk (Germany) 107.24, 3. Kate Eckhardt (Australia) 107.77, 4. Katerina Kudejova (Czech Republic) 109.36, 5. Mallory Franklin (Great Britain) 109.93, 6. Luuka Jones (New Zealand) 112.09, 7. Rosalyn Lawrence (Australia) 118.26, 8. Caroline Trompeter (Germany) 121.46, 9. Ursa Kragelj (Slovenia) 121.59, 10. Marie-Zelia Lafont (France) 164.05.

See full schedule here: http://canoe.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2018-AUS-OPEN-detailed-schedule-for-Teams.pdf

All results and live results can be found here: http://bit.ly/18AusOpenLiveResults

For more about the event see here:

http://canoe.org.au/events/2018-canoe-slalom-australian-open 

Cora Zillich. Jessica Fox pic by Caroline Thompson

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