Olympic champions Lisa Carrington of New Zealand, China’s Shixiao Xu and Mengya Sun, the Polish women’s K4 500 crew and Brazil’s Isaquias dos Santos showed they mean business on the opening day of the ICF canoe sprint world cup in Racice on Friday.

Five-time Olympic gold medalist Carrington celebrated her first day back on the world cup circuit since 2019 with two strong races in the women’s K1 500, and also helped her New Zealand K4 500 team into this weekend’s final.

But it was the Tokyo bronze medalists from Poland who were most impressive in the women’s K4 500. Karolina Naja and Anna Pulawska remain from the Olympic crew, joined this year by Adrianna Kakol and Dominika Putto.

“We did what we needed to do to win,” Pulawska said.

“We have been together maybe five times in a boat. We don’t know if this will be the boat for Paris, but we will see.”

For Dominika Putto it was a return to the crew boat she first competed in at an international level five years ago, alongside Pulawska and Naja.

“This is my big dream here, so I am really happy,” Putto said.

In the men's K4 500 the tremendous rivalry between the crews of Germany and Spain continued in their semi-final, with the Spainards reversing the result of Tokyo last year to pip the Germans on the line.

Chinese women’s C2 500 Olympic gold medalist Xu and Sun picked up from where they left off in Tokyo, finishing almost three seconds ahead of the next best in Friday’s heat. Xu said she had been struggling with back and shoulder injuries since Tokyo, but felt she was returning to her best form.

The men’s C2 500 will be a new event at the Paris Olympics, and already Spain is staking a claim to be a leading medal prospect.

Both their teams won their qualifying heats on Friday to progress straight to the final. Cayetano Garcia and Pablo Martinez held out Tokyo C2 1000 silver medalists, Hao Liu and Pengfei Zheng of China, while Joan Moreno and Adrian Sieiro were too strong for Italian reigning world champions Nicolae Craciun and Daniele Santini.

“This was such an important race for us because we get a chance to see what the international level is like,” Moreno said.

“We see everyone competing with the same objective. We’ve been together for about one year. We are getting stronger all the time.

“The 500 is much better for us, because we are very fast guys, and the 1000 was quite long for us.”

Brazil’s C1 1000 Olympic champion, Isaquias dos Santos, was not the fastest heat winner, but looked in control of his late afternoon race to finish ahead of Germany’s reigning world champion, Conrad Scheibner.

The fastest heat was won by Czech hometown favourite, Martin Fuksa, who finished fifth in last year’s Tokyo final.

In the men’s K1 1000 it was Italian teammates and K2 partners Samuele Burgo and Andrea Schera who made the biggest statements, both winning their respective semi-finals to progress to Saturday’s final.

Schera was the quickest, winning a tough semi-final that included two Olympic finalists.

“For today that’s it, now I can focus on tomorrow’s final and the K2,” Schera said.

“It was a strong race. I train both in the K1 and the K2, but I really focus on the K1 because it’s important to be fast in K1 to do K2. I think I’d like to both, I don’t know yet, but I would like to do both.”

Saturday will see 11 gold medals decided, including the men’s and women’s K4 500, the women’s K1 500 and men’s K1 1000, and the women’s C2 500.

Pic by Dezso Vekassy

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