The first competition day of the canoe slalom world cup in Pau brought some surprising young leaders of the heats, a bright future of the sport expected to be in the spotlight in the coming years.

However, there was another star present on the start line on the World Cup in France. What Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo are for the football fans, this is Michal Martikan for canoe slalom enthusiasts. Legend of canoe slalom still has it, and we see him competing at the 2022 World Cup race in Pau.

At the age of 43 Michal Martikan is undoubtedly the most experienced athlete on the start line of the Canoe Slalom World Cup in Pau, and the most successful one too. Five Olympic medals, two of them gold, two silvers and a bronze, 23 medals from Senior World and 23 medals from senior European Championships make him the most successful male  canoe slalom paddler of all times and he is an inspiration and idol for many athletes.

The years seem to have stopped for Slovak canoeist. He was not too thrilled about his heats runs, but he managed to qualify for the semifinal with the second heats run.

"It's always a pleasure. I love this sport, I like it too much," says Martikan, who returned to Worlds Cup series after the season 2019.

Last year he was competing at European Championships, where he won a team gold medal, while his last individual medals at championships date back to 2017 when he won individual medals at World Championships in Pau and European Championships in Ljubljana - Tacen. His last World Cup win is also from 2017 when he won in Markkleeberg.

"I train a little bit differently now. Slalom is still not difficult enough, so I need to add some flatwater training I don't like, but I have to and that is the most important change in my training plan," says Martikan about the changes that have come in recent years.

"I do not know if it's because of my age, but in the last couple of years I had some smaller injuries, which do not allow me to practise what'd I like to. But the recovery is fine."

Martikan who is known for his technique and skills did not find the gates setting in France too difficult. "It's easy. It's for juniors. But every big race makes it harder. I would like to see much more difficult courses."

He notices things have changed significantly over the years. He has been an important part of the major international competitions since 1995 when he won his first individual World Championships medal, but the way of paddling and equipment are different now.

"There are many paddlers who paddle very nice. But also, I don't know if I can say that I am a bit disappointed, with switching the paddle like girls. Though, sometimes it looks nice and fast. But this is a big difference with our paddling a couple of years ago and now."

"Now, it is much shorter and much easier, because of shorter boats. Now, everybody knows how to turn the boat very quickly, and you do not need to prepare as we had to with four meters boats."

And his wishes for the race? "I would like to paddle in the semifinal and final run clear, no touches, and I would like to use the water as much as possible."

Nina Jelenc

Canoe Slalom
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