Nanase Okazaki fell in love with whitewater sports before he was even old enough to start school, introduced to slalom paddling by his sister Haruka, a leading Japanese competitor.

But his real love quickly became freestyle paddling, even though the nearest training hole was more than 500 kilometres away. It was a good sporting choice, judging by his results this year. The 17-year-old picked up a junior bronze medal at this year’s ICF World Championships in Nottingham.

He followed through with that form this week, posting the highest junior score in the preliminary and semi-final round at the first ICF World Cup in Columbus, Georgia.

"My goal is to become the K1 Junior Men’s World Cup champion here in Columbus," he said.

""I like paddling on both waves and holes. The playspot here is hard but fun. Next year I´m a senior and I want to place myself in the top 10 men at next year’s world championships"

Okazaki knows he will have to work harder than most if he is to make it to the top. He is coached by his father, and this year had to relocate to Europe to get better access to training venues.

"At home I can only train on flatwater as the next playspot is over 500km away from where I live," he said.

"I did online school and spent five months in Europe to train with my coaches - the 2017 World Champion Quim Fonatane I Maso as well as polish Paddler Bartosz Czauderna."

Okazaki has finished high school and applied to university to study sport and physical education.

In other results on Tuesday, American Mason Hargrove posted the highest score in the men’s kayak surface quarter finals, Great Britain’s Ottilie Robinson-Shaw topped the scorecard in the women’s kayak semi-finals and canoe decked preliminary round, and American Jordan Poffenberger pipped Dane Jackson for highest tally in the preliminary round of the men’s canoe decked surface.

The first ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup will wrap up on Wednesday with seven gold medals to be decided.

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