Lure of Olympics adds to drama of world cup final

The best canoe slalom paddlers in the world will take to the water in Prague this weekend for the finale of the ICF World Cup season, but most of the athletes are also hoping to improve their chances of qualifying for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The world cup final is part of the Olympic selection process for several countries, as athletes battle it out for the one available quota for each qualifying nation.

Slovakia and France are two of the countries who will be monitoring the performances of their athletes this weekend. Most countries have picked out several events where their athletes can score points, with the final leaders earning the right to go to Tokyo 2020.

German paddlers Ricarda Funk in the women’s K1 and Hannes Aigner in the men’s K1 last weekend became two of the first athletes to earn their place at the Games, pending Germany qualifying Olympic places at the ICF world championships later this month.

Prague is not one of the qualifying events for the team from Great Britain, but their top athletes return to action this weekend after missing the past three world cups.

Defending Olympic men’s K1 champion, Joe Clarke, and three-time Olympic silver medalist, David Florence, will both take to the water. Clarke was a convincing winner at the opening world cup in Lee Valley, but had a rare finish off the podium at world cup three in Tacen.

Mallory Franklin will also be back in action for the first time since winning double gold in front of her home crowd in Lee Valley. Franklin won both the women’s K1 and C1.

 “It really was ages ago, it feels like it was last season,” Franklin said.

“It was hard to step away when I felt like I was in quite good form, but it was really important for me to have that little span where I had a holiday, and then get back into training. The world championships in La Seu is the most important event of this year, and I’m working towards peaking at that.

“I was trying to spend as much time there as I could, which meant I had to give up some races to achieve that, and I’m quite happy with my decision to do that.

“I’m looking forward to racing, it’s been quite a long time. This race isn’t the most important for me, and I have done a lot more physical training than I normally would, so I’m a little bit fatigued.”

Franklin is hoping to qualify for both the K1 and the C1 for Tokyo, but is facing tough competition from 2016 Olympian Fiona Pennie in the K1, and former European champion Kimberley Woods in the C1 and K1.

She also kept a close watch on her international competition while she was away, although it was a bit of a struggle.

“I’ve been watching, but I’m actually quite bad at watching canoeing when I’m not involved,” she said.

“So I more just pay attention to the results than watch the action. I think I just get a little annoyed that I don’t get a chance to try, but I’m actually just not very good at watching sport to be honest. I’m more of a do it than watch it person.”

The ICF canoe slalom world cup final begins in Prague on Friday and runs through until Sunday.

Great Britain Mallory Franklin C1 women Lee Valley 2019

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