Last week Denis Gargaud Chanut turned 35. No big deal, he already has Olympic and world championship gold medals, life as an elite athlete has been pretty reasonable.

But the Frenchman is far from finished. On Friday he showed he is still one of the world’s most accomplished canoe slalom paddlers, scorching down the Augsburg Ice Channel in the quickest time of the 64 paddlers vying for a world title.

He was more than one second faster than the next quickest paddler, who just happened to be reigning Olympic champion, Benjamin Savsek.

But Gargaud Chanut has been around the block often enough to know qualifying times mean very little. Even he wasn’t throwing caution to the wind, preferring to take a safe approach that would help him escape having to hang around for hours waiting to do a second run.  

“I didn’t push too hard, I just wanted to avoid the second qualifying run, because I’ve done two or maybe three already this year,” he said.

I’m taking every race as if it was my last

“I’ve also learned from this season that qualification is not a moment to overcomplicate the task.”

A wise approach that comes with being one of canoe slalom’s elder statesmen. But while he is obviously still paddling fast, Gargaud Chanut is not oblivious to the pitfalls that come with age.

Missing selection for last year’s Olympics, where he would have been defending his title from 2016, bit hard. For a long time he paddled like an angry and frustrated athlete, which actually landed him some good results.

But it also forced him to, eventually, step back and reassess his priorities.

“It taught me a lot about the sport,” he said.

“I’m taking every race as if it was my last. My career can stop at any moment. I’m at an age where life can change, so of course I am driven for the Olympics, but it’s not my main focus like it was before.

“I’m trying to enjoy the last years I have on the circuit, and try to do the best I can. And it drives me to try and improve what I can do.”

I just want to be close to the win, be in contact with the best

It’s no secret that Gargaud Chanut has been experimenting with a new technique. When he nails it he hopes it will give him that split-second advantage he will need to stay at the front of the pack.

It’s still a work-in-progress, but Gargaud Chanut is in no hurry.

“To be really honest, last year I worked hard to get some good results, to perform and to bring home medals,” he said.

“This year it is not my main goal, it is a year where I’m trying to work on a new technique. I just want to be close to the win, be in contact with the best. My technique is not ready yet to be used all the time, I’m just learning when to use it, when is the best moment to use.

“I’ve been a bit frustrated this year with my results, but overall I’ve been happy with the way I have been paddling. There’s just small mistakes which have pushed me away from the win or the podium at some races.”

My career can stop at any moment. I’m at an age where life can change

This week marks two years until the opening of the Paris 2024 Olympics. Already we are seeing how tough the fight will be for the one C1 position available for the French men’s team. After falling short for Tokyo, Gargaud Chanut is determined not to make the same mistakes again.

But he knows better than most the mountain he will need to climb if he is to end his career paddling at an Olympics in front of his home crowd.

“We’ve been discussing this week, there is a big pack of generation ’88, ’89, ’87, and then there are the older guys, and there are the young guys coming through,” Gargaud Chanut said.

 “Under that there is also a younger generation, and I know because in France I know they are good. They will all be great paddlers, it’s just a question if they can push us or not.

“There are a lot of good paddlers. I don’t know who is going to be the winner of the world cup, or the winner of the world championships, but my goal is just to be in contact, so I know if I work a little harder I can close the gap.”

Pics by Balint Vekassy

France Denis Gargaud Chanut C1 Augsburg 2022

Canoe Slalom
Kayak Cross
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