Men’s C1 slalom has been at the Olympics on nine occasions; in that time, only six athletes from five different countries have won gold.

From 1996 through to 2012 two men dominated men’s C1. Frenchman Tony Estanguet, the face of the Paris Olympics, won gold an incredible three times. Slovakia’s Michal Martikan won twice. He also won two silver and a bronze to cement his record as the leading medal winner in the sport.

It was an incredible era. There were a lot of very good paddlers doing the rounds at that time, but Estanguet and Martikan always managed to rise above the rest, especially when there were major titles up for grabs. Martikan was just 17 years old when he won his first Olympic gold at Atlanta in 1996, making the teenager the youngest ever Olympic slalom gold medalist.

Leading up to 2024 the men’s C1 competition is maybe the most open it has ever been. There have been different winners at each of the three ICF world cup events this season, and six athletes have shared the medals.

Slovenian Benjamin Savsek is the defending Olympic champion, after he ended the 25-year domination of the event by the French and the Slovakians. He has won a world cup gold and a bronze so far this season.

The race for berths in Tokyo was almost more interesting than the Games itself. Of the six top athletes who earned their countries Olympic quotas, only one of the competitors ended up winning Tokyo team selection. Among those to miss out was the defending Olympic champion, Frenchman Denis Gargaud-Chanut.

Finishing third behind Gargaud-Chanut in Rio was Japan’s Takuya Haneda, making him Asia’s first Olympic canoeing medalist. Haneda is among a handful of athletes who is trying to get to a fifth Games next year.

Once again the race for Olympic selection will be intense, especially among countries like Slovakia, Great Britain, Czech Republic, France, Germany and Slovenia. Each country has at least two athletes who would not look out of place at the top of the Olympic podium, but only one athlete can represent each country.

And will history be made in Paris? No man has ever won Olympic medals in both the K1 and C1, but there is a chance at least a couple of athletes will attempt both next year. Czech Jiri Prskavec, the K1 gold medalist in Tokyo, is also trying his hand in C1 this season, and has already made finals and picked up a shock bronze medal in the opening world cup.

France lead the gold medal C1 table with four, ahead of Slovakia on two. The Slovakians with seven gold have the most medals, while 12 countries have won medals. Estanguet, when he won his final gold in London in 2012, and Savsek in Tokyo, were both 34 when they won their titles, making them the oldest champions so far in Olympic C1.

The men’s C1 final will be contested one year from today.

Canoe Slalom
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