Slalom's Olympic birthplace perfect setting for return of Olympic Champion

When the crowd eventually moved away and the television cameras were switched off, Rio Olympic gold medallist Denis Gargaud Chanut took a moment to reflect on whether he had achieved everything he wanted to achieve in canoe slalom.

In the lead-up to Rio he had convinced himself that if he won gold on the Deodoro course he would have nothing more to prove, and could quite happily put the ‘for sale’ sign on his canoe and take his life in a different direction.

But of course, an Olympic Games changes everything. And winning a gold medal at an Olympic Games stimulates the senses even more.

If the mind is strong and the body is willing, who could walk away. After all, it’s only another four years…

“I had won everything I wanted to win in the class,” the Frenchman reflected in Augsburg this week.

“I said if I won the Olympics in Rio, maybe I would quit, but given the fact I enjoy every moment of it, I was looking again to start in races, I decided to keep going.

“It’s just the best way you can practice.”

Maybe playing on his mind was how difficult it had been to get to his first Olympics. He was easily among the very best paddlers in the world in the lead-up to the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

But standing in his way was the imposing figure of canoeing legend, Tony Estanguet, and there was no way the king was going to be removed from his throne.

Gargaud Chanut flirted with the idea of retiring back then. It was a dalliance borne mainly through frustration, because at just 25 in 2012 it was obvious his career was far from washed up on the rocks.

Fortunately for canoe slalom, the now 29-year-old finally got his opportunity in Rio, and the result is writ large in the Olympic record books. It was a life-changing moment.

“I enjoyed every moment since the Games, and especially the Games,” he said.

“I’m still enjoying what I do. The media, the meeting with the partners and the sponsors is all part of the job, so I’m looking forward to this next Olympic campaign.

“My life since Rio has changed. I had to re-start the training quite late because I had a lot of things to do, media stuff and partner thanking.”

So it wasn’t until late January that Gargaud Chanut finally put the gold medal into safe keeping, cleaned the cobwebs out of his boat, set the GPS to Tokyo, and got back into the water.

“I’m feeling okay, having real fun here in Augsburg,” he said.

“I love this place and I’m looking forward to starting tomorrow and enjoying the design.”

He missed last weekend’s season opener in Prague because of his late start to training. He watched, of course, and found it very frustrating not competing.

Now he is in Augsburg, the canoe slalom venue where the sport made its Olympic debut in 1972.

It has a special significance for any slalom athlete who has themselves become part of the sport’s Olympic history, and especially for gold medallists.

Gargaud Chanut knows the sense of expectation that will surround him every time he competes for the next four years. He will learn more about himself this weekend when he takes on the world’s best.

But he has a word of warning for those expecting he’ll stroll on to the podium on Sunday afternoon.

“I know that the sport we are practicing is really difficult,” he said.

“Once you’re in the final, everything can happen for you and for the others.

“It’s very tough to win every race you are taking part of. I’m not focussed on winning every race that’s possible, I’m not looking for a record.

“I just want to practice the best canoe ever on the water, and have the perfect line going fast and easy, like I like to do.”

The ICF Canoe Slalom second World Cup begins in Augsburg on Friday morning, and runs through until Sunday afternoon.

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