Seven years on, Husslein returns for next chapter of Thai paddling history

A lot has happened in the life of Thailand’s Hermann Husslein since he last competed in a canoe slalom event in Tacen, Ljubljana, seven years ago.

For one, he became an Olympian, proudly representing Thailand in the men’s K1 at the London Olympics in 2012.

And secondly, and maybe just as importantly, he has overseen the birth of canoe slalom in Thailand, a country with virtually no canoeing history prior to 2012.

Husslein is part-German, part-Thai and fully passionate slalom. Later this year a new canoe slalom venue in Thailand will open, and next year it will host Asian Olympic qualifiers.

It’s a very good reason for Husslein to take to the water again. The lure of a second Olympics is also difficult to resist.

“Finally we got the opportunity to host Olympic selections in Thailand next year on our new course, which is my long-term project,” he said.

“I was in an ICF development camp and I brought the sport to Thailand, and now 15 years later, we will have our first real international standard canoe slalom venue.

“So for me it is a pleasure and an incentive to try and come back on the water, and to see if I can do it maybe one more time. It’s definitely a good opportunity, because the Japanese already have their spot.

“But in the end it is also about the development for us in Thailand. I was the guy who brought the sport to Thailand, so it is me in the media who is keeping it on, it’s what I want to show.

“This is for the kids, for the juniors to see how it’s working and to bring international athletes to Thailand and to see that we are growing.”

Husslein and the small but very determined Thai paddling community have big dreams for the sport in the Kingdom of Thailand. First and foremost, they hope it will be the start of a period of very strong growth in the sport.

And they also hope international paddlers will come. Most of the world’s paddlers already head to New Zealand and Australia in January to escape the cold northern hemisphere winter, and in Thailand, it’s never cold.

Already the signs are good, especially with the engagement of local paddlers. Husslein has been strongly involved in several ICF Talent Identification Programs (TIP), and early results have been encouraging.

“For sure it’s growing, but you can’t compare it to the big nations, we are quite small,” Husslein said.

“We have a little community that are training more or less on the flatwater. In the Youth Olympics last year we had a C1 paddler who was paddling quite good, and won the slalom event.

“This was quite a milestone after my success in Asia and getting the spot in the Olympics in 2012. It’s slow and steady growing, but this is the way it goes. You can’t do it as fast because in Thailand and most of Asia, the funding is different.

“Athletes don’t have the money to buy their own boats, because the average income is maybe around 300 euros in the big cities. So the Federation has to buy the equipment, we have to share. So it’s always nice to grab some stuff from the big guys and spread it out in Asia.”

It’s also proving a challenge getting Thai women to try their hand at K1 paddling. C1 is not a problem. K1? Well, it has history against it.

“We have a few women juniors doing C1, so we’re quite happy about this because the girls are loving it,” he said.

“But in Thailand we have a bit of a problem in the K1, because dragon boat and the long boat, traditional Thai style, it’s famous so they are used to paddling with a C1 plate.

“Now we have two girls in U23 in juniors in Krakow, so I’m really looking forward to seeing this. I see it growing, which is nice.”

Husslein admits he felt a little underdone coming in to Tacen this weekend, and he didn’t make the K1 semi-finals. But the first step is often the hardest, and the Asian qualifiers are not until next year. And no-one will know the Thai course better than Hermann Husslein.

“Actually I’m pretty excited about the venue and the whole project. I could see it from the beginning, we can see how the work is going every moment,” he said.

“I really, really am looking forward to paddling it the first time, and I really hope to see the international guys coming over. Thailand is a new destination for paddling, and in summer time you can even do some nice creeking up in the north, so it will be challenging and nice for us.”

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