Excitement levels are building in New Zealand as the two-year countdown begins for the country's first-ever canoe slalom world titles.
The 2021 ICF Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships will be held at Auckland's Vector Wero Whitewater Park. It will be just the second time the championships, which started in 1986, have been held in Oceania with Australia hosting the 2014 edition in Penrith.
"These next two years are going to go pretty quickly and we've already been putting a lot of work into making sure the event will be totally memorable and amazing for everyone involved," Canoe Slalom New Zealand chairman Kerry Bloor said.  
"Having a world-class artificial venue like Vector Wero has been a game-changer for the sport in New Zealand but we're also very keen for visitors to see what else the country has to offer, with our beautiful natural rivers and courses."
Those natural venues include the Tarawera River in Kawerau, venue for the three-day national championships held over the weekend, plus renowned sites like the Kaituna River near Rotorua, the Mangahao River near Shannon and the pristine Tekapo Whitewater Course in Canterbury.
New Zealand has become a key destination for European paddlers training in their off-season since Vector Wero's opening in 2016.  It has helped the 2021 event gain support from the New Zealand Government, Sport New Zealand and economic growth agency Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (ATEED), while ICF President Jose Perurena is also anticipating a huge occasion.
"It is so exciting for our sport to be heading to New Zealand for such a major event," Perurena said.
"The junior and U23 ICF canoe slalom world championships showcases the future of our sport, and it will also provide an opportunity to showcase an exciting new venue. Many of the world's best athletes head to Auckland every New Zealand summer to train and compete at the new venue, and now the world's best young paddlers will get the chance to test themselves there.
"We also know the New Zealanders will put on a fantastic show. The country has really stepped up as a canoeing stronghold in recent years, with Luuka Jones's K1 silver medal at the Rio Olympics a particular highlight. We are confident the 2021 ICF Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships will strengthen further canoe slalom paddling in New Zealand and the region."
Top French paddler Camille Prigent is one who has made regular appearances in New Zealand over the last three years, attracted by the easy access to a variety of training spots, as well as the chance to train with Olympic silver medalist, Kiwi Luuka Jones.
"I came to train in good conditions to prepare for the season but also to discover new places in this beautiful country," Prigent said.
"I trained a lot on the Kaituna and also at Wero to prepare for the races there and to train on a bigger slalom course. It was a really good place for me to train because there are a lot of stoppers so you can do many different moves and it's great preparation for international races."
The 2021 event will also cap a huge sporting summer in Auckland, with the the city fresh from hosting yachting's 36th America's Cup.
As part of the buildup, Vector Wero will host the next two Oceania championships, in February next year and in March 2021. Next year's event will double as the Oceania continental Olympic qualifying race.
Jamie Troughton
Canoe Slalom
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