Portugal’s Jose Ramalho is dreaming of breaking through for a gold medal when the 2018 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships come to his home country this year, but more than anything he wants to be a strong role model for the next generation.

The 35-year-old has been a regular fixture on the ICF Canoe Marathon circuit since making his debut back in 2009, the last time the World Championships came to Portugal.

Ramalho finished third in Gaia, and hasn’t missed a World Championships since. His best ever result came in 2012 in Rome, when he finished second, and he’s also notched up three bronze medals and three fourth placings.

But never a gold. In more recent years it’s been the formidable South Africans, led by the indomitable scrapper Hank McGregor, who have stood in the way.

The South Africans are expected to turn up in force at Prado Vila Verde, but Ramalho will be ready for them.

“They are really strong, but I believe that they aren't invincible athletes,” Ramalho said.

“Otherwise we may as well not compete to get a medal.”

Ramalho started his 2018 season in the best possible way last month, taking gold in the Amsterdam Waterland Marathon. He has set himself the goal of winning a medal at every event he contests this year.

“I have some expectations for the 2018 season,” the Portuguese said.

“I have a world cup in Portugal, European Championships in Croatia and the World Championship in Portugal. Of course the World Championships will be special, because I will have the support of my family and friends.

“So, I expect to be in the medals in all competitions.”

Ramalho finished fourth in last year’s world titles in South Africa, which he admits wasn’t the result he was expecting. The race in Pietermaritzburg was a bruising affair in blistering hot conditions, and the South Africans competing in front of vocal and passionate home fans proved too formidable on the day.

This year the fans will be cheering for him, which could be a mixed blessing. He’ll have the weight and the eyes of the marathon-loving Portuguese community on his shoulders.

Young eyes, watching their hero take on the best in the world.

“It will be really special, because I will count on the support of my family and friends, who are very important, and I will have the support of the Portuguese people,” he said.

“I feel that on the water me, my family, friends and Portuguese people will paddle together. 

“I always try to be better, but more than a good athlete I try to be an example of fair play. As I train young athletes I know that the values of sport are more important than medals to create better human beings.” 

For now Ramalho is sticking to what he knows best. He is following the same training program which has served him well in recent years, and is letting the excitement of a home-town World Championship carry him along.

And if the focus is on him, so be it. He sees this year’s event as an important milestone in the growth of the canoe discipline in a country where there are miles and miles of coastal and inland waterways beckoning canoeists to explore.

“I think that marathon is very good in Portugal,” he said.

“The Portuguese Federation is doing a great job with the promotion of the World Cup and World Championships around the country, which is giving even more popularity to canoe marathon.”

The 2018 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships will be held in Prado Vila Verde from September 6 to 9, with the Canoe Masters World Cup on September 3 and 4.

<a href='/webservice/athleteprofile/48161' data-id='48161' target='_blank' class='athlete-link'>Jose Ramalho</a> Pietermaritzburg Canoe Marathon

Canoe Marathon