Alexander Slafkovsky isn’t certain when he first paddled on the Tacen slalom course in Ljubljana, but he knows it was last century.

He ventures maybe 1995, which would have made him 12 at the time, but maybe it was 1996. Whenever it was, none of the paddlers lining up alongside him in Saturday’s slalom world cup final would have been there. Some of them weren’t even born then.

For most of us at a certain age who often claim “age is just a number”, it really is just a phrase that bears no resemblance to real life circumstances which underline the older you are, the more difficult it is to replicate the sort of performances you once commanded in your prime.

But for 39-year-old Alexander Slafkovsky, age really does seem to be just a number. On Sunday the Slovakian used all his experience and knowledge of the booby-trapped Tacen course to hand out a paddling lesson to his younger opponents. No wonder he felt emotional as his world cup victory was confirmed.

“As you say, not bad for an old man,” Slafkovsky said.

“Honestly this is very emotional for me because I didn’t have the feeling of winning something for a long time. This season I wasn’t even in the finals of the big competitions, so I didn’t know what to expect in today’s final.”

Slafkovsky’s last world cup win was in Markkleeberg, Germany, in September of 2019. Since then Covid disrupted everything. He came up short in Olympic qualification, contemplated retiring, but then decided to stay on because this year’s European championships were on his home course of Liptovsky Mikulas.

Once that was out of the way, he decided he may as well see out the season. Although until Tacen, he wasn’t sure it was the right decision.

“The season started not as I planned, so I was counting on Tacen, on a course that I like,” he said.

“I was very happy already to be in the final, and I just wanted to show what I can do. It means a lot to me. I know I’m the oldest on the circuit still paddling, but it’s not an excuse, it’s something where I want to use my experience to do well.

“I want to please the people who still believe in me, and hopefully today I did it, I made them happy. I have to be realistic, the body will tell me when I have to stop, and already for two years my body is telling me to be careful.”

The plan is to keep going until next season, an Olympic qualifying year for Paris 2024. It’s hard to believe a paddler of Slafkovsky’s class has never been to a Games, but it’s the one gaping hole on his resumé.

It would be a fitting finale for an athlete who has lived and breathed canoe slalom for nearly his entire life.

Pics by Balint Vekassy

Slovakia Alexander Slafkovsky Tacen 2022

Canoe Slalom
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