Olympians show their class on opening day of Sprint World Cup in Portugal

The gold and silver medallists from the women’s K1 200 at the Rio Olympics shone out on the opening day of competition at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1 in Montemor-o-Velho on Friday, but in different events.

New Zealand gold medallist Lisa Carrington teamed up with Aimee Fisher to easily win their heat of the K2 500, while silver medallist, Poland’s Marta Walczkiewicz, was equally impressive winning her heat of the K1 500.

There were also strong performances from Portugal’s Fernando Pimenta and France’s Maxime Beaumont in the windy afternoon conditions.

Carrington, a two-time Olympic gold medallist, has opted just to race teamboats in Portugal this weekend, for the first time since the London Olympics.

“I think what I found was I got to all the markers a lot quicker than I usually do,” Carrington said.

“I was nervous and excited, but it’s always cool to do something different. You’ve got to keep things fresh, and it’s great to be part of a team.”

It was a triumphant return to the water for Walczkiewicz, after she was forced to take five months off post-Rio to recover from an arm injury.

“This is the first serious race for me, so it was a challenge for me,” she said.

“Rio was a dream come true for me, but I want more. I have had the silver medal, now I want the gold.”

Pimenta, a K2 silver medallist from London 2012, won both his events on Friday, the K1 1000 and the K1 500, to qualify straight into the finals in front of his home crowd.

“I wanted to qualify straight into the final in both races so I am very happy,” he said.

“It’s a good feeling to see the flags, to see the people pushing for us. What athlete doesn’t like this? I hope on the weekend we will have more people out here to cheer us on.”

French Olympic silver medallist, Maxime Beaumont, was another who won both his races to progress to the finals, also in the K1 1000 and K1 500.

German three-time Olympic gold medallist, Sebastian Brendel, had to settle for a close second in his heat of the C1 1000, having his colours lowered by Czech C1 500 World Champion, Martin Fuksa.

Both athletes qualified straight into the final.

In other results, 2016 British Olympian Rebeka Simon was an impressive winner in her heat of the K1 500, and said she enjoyed the conditions.

“It’s good to get the first one out of the way, the first International of the season, so it’s a good start,” Simon said.

“After being out yesterday it’s not really that bad. But at home we train on Nottingham Lake, and it’s ten times worst, so we’re used to it.”

The men’s K4 1000 will be replaced by the K4 500 in Tokyo, making a new focus for many athletes.

Spain’s Pelayo Roza and Albert Marti are two that hope to be in the K4 in 2020, showing their pedigree with a strong heat win in the K2 500 on Friday.

“The conditions are very fast, the wind is blowing very strong,” Roza said.

“Of course it has been very hard preparing for the first race of the year. We have trained hard, two times every day, for events like this.

“Maybe we have a good chance for the K4 500 in Tokyo, because we are very young and we think we have a lot of potential.”

Another with his sights on Tokyo is Cuban triple-Olympian Serguey Madrigal, who teamed up with teenager Fernando Enriquez to finish sixth in the C2 1000 in Rio last year.

The pair won their C2 1000 heat comfortably in the windy conditions on Friday morning. 

“It was very hard for us, because me and my partner do not have much weight,” Madrigal said.

“I think we will improve a lot over the next year, because my partner is only 18-years-old. We finished sixth in Rio, but he is so young so I think we can get much better.”

Hungary’s Krisztina Fazekas-Zur, a two-time Olympic team gold medallist and multiple World Championships winner, had to work hard, relying on a second placing in a semi-final of the K1 500 to make the final.

“It’s very good that I’ve made the final,” 36-year-old Fazekas-Zur said.

“I have felt better, but it is only early in the season so I hope with every race I will get better.”

The ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 1 continues on Saturday and Sunday.

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