Marta Walczykiewicz had about as much fun at the Rio Olympics as it was possible to have without winning a gold medal, but she hopes to go one step further and create Polish history in Tokyo next year.

The 31-year-old canoe sprint paddler won silver in the women’s K1 200 behind New Zealand speedster Lisa Carrington, and was rewarded for her efforts with the honour of carrying her country’s flag at the closing ceremony.

“It was as exciting as winning the medal,” Walczykiewicz said.

“Carrying the flag was a great honour and pride for me. I will always remember that moment.”

Obviously the only way to top that moment would be to win gold at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. If she could do that, she would become the first Pole to win an Olympic canoeing gold medal.

Walczykiewicz’s journey to Tokyo didn’t get off to the best of starts. An injury to her right arm after Rio kept her off the water for five months, and a left shoulder injury has kept her off the water for two months this year.

She returned to paddling on March 10. It’s a limited preparation, and maybe if the opening of the 2019 ICF World Cup season was not in her home country she would delay her return to later in the year.

But it’s Poznan, and Walczykiewicz desperately wants to perform in front of the fans and help lift the profile of canoeing in Poland.

“I am a little bit anxious about whether I will be ready, but I hope I will do my best,” she said.

“Competing in your own country is more difficult, as the pressure to achieve success is bigger.

“But I am glad that I am recognisable in the canoeing world. It has always been my dream that my name will be known worldwide. I am glad that I can promote canoeing, which is still little known in Poland. I hope canoeing will be part of my life in the future.”

So what will it take to create Polish canoeing history? The first hurdle is overcoming a paddler who has not lost a major K1 200 race since before the London Olympics. Lisa Carrington is showing no sign of slowing down.

But Walczykiewicz has the drive that comes with the heartbreak of finishing second, and she’s been channeling that motivation since August 16, 2016.

“My dreams came true after Rio. I treated it like a gold medal,” she said.

“It was the capstone for 20 years of paddling. But I want more. I have tasted a silver medal, and now I want to feel the gold medal.”

Her preparation for Tokyo will be different to her build up to Rio, partly because of her injuries, but also because she has embraced new training methods introduced by her coach.

But don’t bother asking what those new methods are, because Walczykiewicz is keeping those secret.

“I think it will be a great thing to go there and fight for the best position. If my health allows, I will give my fans great emotions,” she promises.

Despite the relatively low profile of canoeing in Poland, Poznan is one of the oldest venues still being used today. In 1961 the city hosted the European canoe sprint championships, and hosted the same event a further three times.

Poznan has also hosted the world championships on three occasions – 2010, 2001 and 1990. Walczykiewicz is looking forward to showing the canoeing world just how much the sport has progressed in Poland since their last visit.

“Canoeing in Poland is getting better and better, especially the women’s team coached by Tomasz Kryk,” she said.

“A few ambitious and talented girls have joined the team. The canoe team is powerful as well, and I hope that the men’s teams will show a high sporting level too.”

The 2019 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Cup will be held in Poznan from May 23 until the 25th.

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