Pics by Bence Vekasssy

Six Olympic quotas were up for grabs, and six different countries booked their tickets for Tokyo on the final day of the ICF global canoe sprint Olympic qualifiers in Barnaul, Russia, on Friday.

Lithuania, Croatia, Portugal, China, Moldova and host nation Russia are the final pieces of the canoe sprint Olympic jigsaw after an international qualification process severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Russian Natalia Podolskaia is set for her second Olympics, having competed in the women’s K4 at the London Games. On Friday she took the honours in the women’s K1 200 in front of an enthusiastic home crowd.

“This is so important for me to be able to get to another Olympic Games,” Podolskaia said.

“Unfortunately I couldn’t do it last week in Hungary but it was special to do it here. This is very unusual for us to race here, we usually have to travel to other countries to compete, so this was a real pleasure to make everyone happy.”

Russia Natalia Podolskaya K1 200 Barnaul 2021

Portugal’s Joana Vasconcelos was also at the London Olympics, and after missing Rio, is set to return to the Olympic fold after winning the women’s K1 500.

Serghei Tarnovschi will get the chance to seek redemption in Tokyo, five years after the Moldovan was stripped of his bronze medal from the Rio Olympics because of a positive doping test.

The 12-month delay to the Tokyo Games has allowed the 23-year-old to serve out his four-year ban and return to racing, winning the C1 1000 quota on Friday.

Tarnovschi grabbed victory in the final stroke, overcoming Russian Ilia Shtokalov in a tense finish. It was Shtokalov who inherited Tarnovschi’s bronze medal in Rio after finishing fourth.

“Every athlete is very happy when they get to go to an Olympic Games, and this Games has been much harder because of Covid-19,” Tarnovschi said.

“And it’s not easy because for four years I didn’t have competitions, and I trained alone, and it was very hard. Some of the athletes welcome me, some don’t like me. It’s a choice for everyone.”

Moldova Serghei Tarnovschi C1 1000 Barnaul 2021

Croatia’s Vanesa Tot, a graduate of the ICF’s canoe development program, will be part of Olympic history when women’s canoe makes its Games debut in Tokyo. She will also join women’s K1 paddler Anamaria Govorcinovic as the first female canoe sprint paddlers to represent Croatia at the Olympics.

“This was one of my best races of my life, now you can see how happy my coach and I are, we can’t believe we have made it,” Tot said.

“It’s amazing that I have been paddling on the river for just four years, and now I come first here and I get to go to the Olympics. This morning I said to my coach that I thought I could do it, that I could be first.

“I’m happy to be part of history, and the first female paddler from Croatia to be going to canoe in the Olympics.”

Croatia Vanesa Tot C1 200 Barnaul 2021

Lithuania’s Mindaugas Maldonis earned his country the men’s K1 200 quota, but had to put his celebrations on hold because it is still to be decided who the former Soviet state will send to Tokyo.

“I hope they take into consideration that I have managed to secure the quota for my country, and that I am capable of going to the Olympics,” he said.

“Getting to the Olympics is the dream I have had since my childhood. Rio I was not capable of going there, Tokyo was my dream country, and I surely hope I can go there.”

Lithuania Mindaugas Maldonis K1 200 Barnaul 2021

China’s Dong Zhang, who has spent most of his paddling career in team boats, took advantage of the opportunity to paddle in a K1 by securing his country a 1000 metre quota for Tokyo.

"Is it me? I don't believe it. I am so happy for that race," Zhang said.

There will be 50 countries represented in canoe sprint at the Tokyo Olympics, following the allocation of tripartite quotas to Joaquim Lobo of Moldova and Amado Cruz of Belize.

China Dong Zhang K1 1000 Barnaul 2021


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