On the eve of the Tokyo Olympics a small group of female canoe slalom paddlers gathered for a ritual which started in London in 2012, and which this year carried extra significance.

The paddlers gather at the Olympics rings in the Games athlete village for a group shot to celebrate the start of another Games campaign.

This year the group were particularly buoyant. For the first time women’s canoe is on the Olympic program, and for the first time there are equal medals up for offer on the slalom programme.

“It is a special time for us, I will take a moment to reflect on how we got here,” Australia’s Jessica Fox, one of the women’s C1 pioneers, said.

Not only was Fox one of the hardest campaigners to have women’s canoe added to the Olympic programme, she is also far and away the sport’s best performer. A four-time world champion, she is rarely beaten, and often wins her races by more than five seconds.

Athletes that qualified for Tokyo 2020 in Women's Canoe

But since been added to the Olympics the depth in the sport has increased significantly. Many female kayak paddlers now also do canoe, and the gap between Fox and the rest of the field has narrowed considerably.

Two athletes in particular are genuine gold medal prospects in Tokyo, and, unlike Fox, both are in Japan just for the women’s canoe.

Germany’s Andrea Herzog is the reigning world champion. She defeated Fox there, and then also beat her at the final ICF world cup before Tokyo this year. She’s just 21, and gets faster every time she takes to the water.

Great Britain’s Mallory Franklin was born just eight days after Jessica Fox, and the pair have been going head-to-head since their days as junior athletes. She is the only other athlete to beat Fox at a world championships, in Rio in 2017.

Like Fox, Brazil’s Ana Satila is doing both K1 and C1 in Tokyo. A two-time Olympian in the kayak, Satila’s best results in recent times have come in the canoe. She was third at the 2017 world titles in Rio, and won both world cup events that were held in 2020.

She was also crowned U23 world champion in 2019, and has the advantage of having already raced on the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre course four times at this Olympics.

The surprise could come from Austria’s Nadine Weratschnig, the reigning world championship bronze medalist who only competes in canoe. She was also fourth at the 2018 world titles, and finished third at the final world cup event before Tokyo.

A noted speedster who, like Satila, is not afraid to take risks – sometimes at great expense.

The women’s canoe will make its Olympic debut with qualifying heats on Wednesday, with the semi-final and final on Thursday.

2021 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup Markkleeberg Andrea HERZOG

Canoe Slalom
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