The raw emotion Alexander Slafkovsky displayed after he crossed the finish line in Markkleeberg on Saturday was that of a man who had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders.

Of a man who maybe had begun to question his own ability to deliver when it matters, on whether he would be able to return to full fitness after a debilitating illness earlier this year, and whether his Olympic dream would always remain just that – a dream.

Two of those three questions he answered in a lightning-quick 92.54 seconds on Saturday, the time it took for him to win a C1 world cup gold. The third question has been split into four parts and will be answered at a later date. But the early signs are good.

It’s been more than two years since Slafkovsky won an international gold medal. Too often since then its been a case of so close, but so far. Last year it almost became ridiculous, with Slafkovsky picking up four consecutive world cup silver medals.

As the dawn of a new year arrived, Slafkovsky knew 2019 had to be different. If he wanted to get to his first Olympics, finishing second all the time wouldn’t cut it. Especially with competition in the men’s C1 in Slovakia considered the toughest of any nation in the world.

And then the 36-year-old Slovakian fell sick. Really sick, and for a long time. With so much at stake, Slafkovsky refused to stop training and competing, even though a raging fever made it hard for him some days to even lift his head.

It took him a month to shake it off, which put him a fair way behind his Slovakian teammates. He worked like a man possessed, always with the fourth world cup in Markkleeberg circled in his calendar as the day he would need to deliver – Slovakia’s first qualifying race for the Tokyo Olympics.

Fast forward to Saturday, Slafkovsky leaning back in his canoe, arms stretched wide open, a cry of relief ricocheting off the walls of the slalom course as he slapped his trusty canoe. Slafkovsky was back, he’d reminded everyone how good he was, and the Olympic dream was alive.

“It’s been a long time since I had a win,” Slafkovsky said.

“It’s a really different feeling when you cross the finish line and you see the number one on the result, especially on a race like this which is a world cup and a selection for the Olympics, so I have made that first step.

“This is why it is so emotional for me, because probably this is the last chance for me to go to the Olympics, and I’m really happy that I made the first step. But it’s a long way to go still, and this is just the first step of the journey.”

There are three qualifying races to go for the Slovakian C1 men, and 2016 silver medalist, Matej Benus, and two-time Olympic gold medalist, Michal Martikan, are battle-hardened street fighters who have picked themselves up off the canvas before.

Slafkovsky will need more days like Saturday to make his Olympic dream a reality.

Pics by Balint Vekassy

Slovakia <a href='/webservice/athleteprofile/35129' data-id='35129' target='_blank' class='athlete-link'>Alexander Slafkovsky</a> Markkleeberg 2019

Canoe Slalom
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