It has been an intense day of racing in Liptovsky Mikulaš, Slovakia, at the 2016 ECA European Canoe Slalom Championships. There has been joy and disappointment, but we have seen some excellent racing at a very difficult course. Local stars Alexander Slafkovsky and Michal Martikan celebrated a double win in men’s C1, Czech kayakers Jiri Prskavec and Vavrinec Hradilek were first and second in men’s K1, while Spanish representative Nuria Vilarrubla took gold in women’s C1 final. Ander Elosegi (ESP) and Maarten Hermans (NED) booked a ticket to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games after finishing at the top in the European Olympic Qualifiers. 

Loud support from the stands helped canoeist Alexander Slafkovsky (SVK) to produce the best run in the final to win a gold medal. “It is something amazing. Unbelievable! It was my dream to achieve this once in my career – to win at home and to win something big. Today is the day and I am so happy,” said Alexander Slafkovsky. He already has a European Champion title he won two years ago in Vienna. 

Slafkovsky was the only finalist without any penalty seconds, but pointed out the run was not perfect: “You cannot make a perfect run on this course because the water is changing a lot. You just have to be careful on your way. The first part was more secure and then I started to push it more and more. I heard the crowd screaming and that I’m ahead, so I wanted to continue like this to the finish line.”

He was a little less than two seconds ahead of Michal Martikan (SVK) who was actually the fastest canoeist in the final but picked up four penalty seconds which pushed him to the silver medal position. Ander Elosegi (ESP) took bronze. 

The day became even more successful for the Spanish team in the following category. Nuria Vilarrubla (C1W European Championships bronze medallist in 2013 and 2015) took gold in women’s canoe final with a tight lead of 66 hundredths of a second ahead of Katerina Hoškova from Czech Republic. Mallory Franklin (GBR) was third.

“The final run was so hard for me today. I did not feel good. At the exit of the first upstream gate I did not feel very confident. I fought a lot and did some mistakes, but finally I succeeded. The course was really difficult, we had to do a lot of spins. It was hard,” said Nuria with a big smile. 

Slovak, Slovenian and Czech fans were the loudest on the stands creating a great atmosphere despite the terrible weather conditions. Slovenian fans were going crazy after Peter Kauzer (SLO) crossed the finish line with what appeared to be the fastest time. He already celebrated his second European Champion title (he won in 2010 in Bratislava) but a bit later he was given additional two seconds penalty after the judges review his run, so he was pushed outside the medal positions, to the fourth place. The disappointment of Peter Kauzer was understandable: “I was given another penalty, but I don’t know if I made the touch or not. I cannot say anything until I see the video. There’s nothing I can do right now. I need to focus on the upcoming races and Olympic Games, follow the path I have in mind until the final goal.”

Jiri Prskavec (CZE), reigning world champion, added another trophy to his impressive collection. “When I finished my run I saw they gave me two touches and I was sure I only had one, so I was focusing on that. At the end when Peter finished I was really happy for him. Second place at the Europeans would be awesome as well,” said Prskavec after the medals ceremony. His win was the tightest possible – he was only 0.01 seconds ahead of his teammate Vavrinec Hradilek! Hannes Aigner (GER) was third.

“I had a touch at the top, so I knew I had to go really fast to be one of the fastest and I think the bottom part was perfect and that’s why I’m now standing at the top,” Jiri added. 

Czech team also had internal Olympic selections at this European Championships and Prskavec secured himself a spot in the Czech Olympic team. “There was a pressure, but after the semifinals I already knew I’m going to the Olympics, so I just wanted to enjoy the finals. It was perfect that it happened the way it did.”

Vavrinec Hradilek who won silver in London 2012 Olympics will therefore not get a chance to defend his medal from four years ago. Also 2012 Olympic Champion in men’s kayak Daniele Molmenti (ITA) will not get a chance to start in Brazil. Italian team, like many others, had internal Olympic selections and Giovanni de Gennaro produced the best runs to win a spot in Rio. 

Many teams which already won Olympic quotas at last year’s World Championships in London used this European Championships as their selection race, but others still had to win a quota. Semifinal races gave us the last two nations in men’s kayak and men’s canoe events to participate in Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games as this European Championships serves as the European Olympic Qualifier with one place remaining to be allocated in each of the four Olympic disciplines. Ander Elosegui booked a ticket for Spain in men’s canoe and Maarten Hermans for Netherlands in men’s kayak. Sunday will bring us the last Olympians in women’s K1 and men’s C2.

Individual events were followed by team races. Slovakia (Alexander Slafkovsky, Michal Martikan, Matej Benuš) took gold in men’s C1 event, finishing the race almost seven and a half seconds ahead of Team Poland (Grzegorz Hedwig, Igor Sztuba, Przemyslaw Plewa). Great Britain (David Florence, Ryan Westley, Adam Burgess) was third. Czech Republic was unbeatable in men’s kayak team final. Jiri Prskavec and Vavrinec Hradilek who also won individual medals paddled together with Vit Prindiš and set the fastest time of the final. French team (Boris Neveu, Sebastien Combot, Etienne Daille) was only a second behind, while Spain (Samuel Hernanz, Joan Crespo, Unai Nabaskues) won bronze medal. Mallory Franklin, Kimberley Woods and Eilidh Gibson won a gold medal for Great Britain in women’s C1 team event, Czech Republic (Katerina Hoškova, Monika Jančova, Martina Satkova) was second and Germany (Andrea Herzog, Lena Stoecklin, Birgit Ohmayer) third.

The 2016 ECA European Canoe Slalom Championships in Slovakia will conclude on Sunday with women’s K1 and men’s C2 events.

Canoe Slalom