Portugal’s Fernando Pimenta showed he is feeling no pressure as hometown favourite by cruising to victory in the heats of the K1 1000 at the 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in Montemor-o-Velho on Thursday.

Hungary’s five-time Olympic gold medallist, Danuta Kozak, also showed she has returned to racing in top form, while Germany’s Max Hoff and Marcus Gross, New Zealand’s Lisa Carrington and Caitlin Ryan, and Czech Martin Fuksa also impressed in perfect racing conditions.

Canada’s Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, already a raging favourite for Olympic gold in 2020, did nothing to dissuade her fans with a strong heat win in the C1 200, while three-time Olympic gold medallist, Sebastian Brendel, kept his German fans happy with a solid C1 1000 heat win.

Pimenta has been the public face of the 2018 World Championships and has been the centre of media attention in the lead-up to this week’s event.

After charging out of the start line, 29-year-old Pimenta eased off in the final stages to cruise through to the semi-finals.

He said the expectation was not affecting him at all.

“I don’t feel the pressure at all, it is normal,” Pimenta said.

“I have been competing in competition since 2005, when I was 15-years-old, and we live for this.

“But this is special, because I have my family, my friends, my sponsors and my teammates. It’s good for me and it’s good for my career.”

Kozak made her long anticipated return to racing with a strong K1 500 heat win. The Hungarian won three gold medals at the Rio Olympics, but took time off to have a baby.

“I’m feeling good, I like racing and I’ve missed it,” Kozak said.

“I had one year off, and I really liked it, but it is good to be back.”

Germany’s Max Hoff and Marcus Gross are looking to make a statement after missing a K2 1000 medal at last year’s World Championships, and impressed in Thursday’s heats.

“This morning I was nervous again, I am like a little boy,” veteran Hoff said.

“Marcus is always laughing at me, but now I’m in the race and I feel like I am getting better.”

New Zealand’s Carrington and Ryan got an early win over Hungarian rivals Anna Karasz and Danuta Kozak in what is looming as one of the great races of the championships.

“I think it is so exciting to be able to race Danuta and Anna, but it is just a heat and it was top three through, so we really just wanted to make top three so we don’t have to do the semi,” Carrington said.

“We’ve got a busy week so we just want to cut the races down where we can, so we’re pretty happy.”

Traditionally Sebastian Brendel saves his best racing for the biggest events, and after having his colours lowered at this year’s Duisburg World Cup he is out to hold on to his world title.

“We’ve had a long time training after the European Championships and I think we have a good time in us now,” he said.

“I hope I can bring my best this weekend. We will see this weekend how it goes.”

Vincent-Lapointe has already proven herself the best female canoe paddler on the planet, and now sets her sights on lowering the world record she already holds whenever she goes onto the water.

A strong headwind on Thursday prevented her from setting a new record, but she was still comfortable with her performance.

“I was strong throughout, from the beginning to the finish, so even though there was a very strong headwind, I think I did a very good race,” she said.

“You feel when you think you have done everything you could do, it’s like an exam – you feel you’ve done all the training, all the studying you could do for the race.

“And that’s what I feel right now, so I could not be more excited to race here this weekend.”

The 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships continue on Friday.

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