In 2007 a starry-eyed 12-year-old canoe marathon volunteer couldn’t believe her luck when she got to carry the boat of her hero and Hungarian legend, Renata Csay, at the ICF world championships.

12 years later and instead of carrying her boat, Zsofia Czelia-Voros found herself sitting in the same boat, still starry-eyed but this time helping Csay to her 20th ICF world championship gold medalist.

Csay won her first ICF gold medal back in 1999, as a 22-year-old in a K2 alongside Andrea Pitz. Now she has a gold medal for every year she has raced – 13 of them coming in K2, and seven in individual K1 races.

It goes without saying Csay is the most successful canoe marathon paddler ever. Full stop. Alongside her 20 gold medals, she also has 11 silver medals - and no bronze. There are few athletes in any sport who can boast such dominance.

Almost as famous as her exploits on the water are her post-race interviews. Never one to blow her own trumpet, even after notching up her 20th gold medal she was keeping things low key.

 “I’m so thankful that I can still be here,” Csay said.

“I don’t know how I keep doing it, I just like paddling. I will come back next year.”

Her partner was caught up in the emotion though, recounting for the Chinese audience her experience from 12 years ago as Csay stood smiling alongside her.

“I’m so happy that she won her 20th with me, because I remember in 2007 the championship was in Gyor, and she was there,” Czelia-Voros said.

“I was running back to get her boat, because I was a volunteer then, and I had to get her boat to boat control.

“I was so happy then, I did not think in my dreams that I would be paddling with her.”

Csay and Czelia-Voros had to work hard to defend the gold medal they won last year. Two Spanish boats teamed up to make life difficult for the pre-race favourites, and it wasn’t until the final sprint that they were able to break free.

“It was a bit tough, I think we had a big mistake at the first portage, but I think we managed because we knew that we could catch them,” Czelia-Voros said.

“And then we just focused on the last portage, and we did it really well.

“We are always watching everyone who starts in the race, but the Spanish boats were very good. We wanted to break away, but they were good.”

Canoe Marathon
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