A step back to reality, a time to regroup and build

By John Gregory @gregiej

The aftermath of the Olympics is a tumultuous time for many athletes and national federations. A new Olympic cycle commences.

All the 2012 Olympic Champions have now graceful bowed out; Tony Estanguet (FRA), Danielle Molmenti (ITA), Emilie Fer (FRA) and Tim Baillie/ Etienne Stott (GBR). This makes way for some rising stars. There are some earlier Olympic Champions still racing - Elena Kaliska (SVK), Michal Martikan (CZE), Pavol & Peter Hochschorner (SVK), Stepanka Hilgertova (CZE) and Alexander Grimm (GER).

In our Rio Olympic blog, it was noted by Joe Jacobi that a certain Noemie Fox was sitting among the spectators at the X-Park Deodoro Whitewater Stadium. She has now made the Australian senior team. Jakub Grigar cemented his status as the first medal potential K1M from Slovakia. He has Olympic experience and an ICF 2016:4 ranking of 4. What promise will this 2017 season hold?

At British Canoeing, John Anderson MBE steps down after an illustrious career. His shoes are filled by Paul Ratcliffe, Sydney Olympic silver medallist. Five times World Champion, Richard Fox, has moved from Australian Canoeing to France.

2017 season races

The regular spring season starts in Europe with the ECA Championships on the Tacen course where last season ended with the World Cup final.

  • ECA European Slalom Senior Championships, Tacen - May 31-June 4
  • World Cup 1 – Prague – June 16-18
  • World Cup 2 – Augsburg - June 23-25
  • World Cup 3 – Markleeberg – June 30-July 2
  • Junior & U23 World Championship, Slovakia – July 18-23
  • World Cup 4 – Ivrea – September 1-3
  • World Cup Final – Seu – September 8-10
  • Slalom Senior World Championships – Pau – September 27-October 1

Click here to see the consolidated summary table of race winners (correct as of June 1, 2017)

C1M – How long will the current French domination continue?

2016 Olympic Champion Denis Gargaud Chanut (FRA) will be on his home course for the World Championships with more to prove. He told us that the top 10 ICF athletes are strong. To win on the course in Pau, he believes requires the ability to be adaptive and lucky.

The Slovakian C1M is an excellent illustration of how tight competition is within teams. Matej Benus was pre-selected, leaving four athletes vying for two spots. Alexander Slafkovsky is racing to defend his European and World Cup series titles. 

“The young Marko Mirgorodsky is very close to us,” says Slafkovsky. Mirgorodosky was the Junior World Champion in 2015 & 2016 and European Champion in 2015. We are advised to look out too for 2016 Junior European Champion, Matyas Lhota (CZE).

The Olympic bronze for Takuya Haneda (JPN) could not have come at a better time as we start the next four-year cycle to Tokyo 2020.

We have learned that Fabien Lefevre (USA), the Deep Creek World Champion, decided at the last minute not to race for selection this year for personal reasons.

C1W – What doors will open in C1W?

Several national federations will increase their investment in C1W in anticipation of its formal adoption as one of the Olympic classes for Tokyo.

Through the winter training, we have seen several top K1W paddlers experimenting in C1W. Are they serious or having fun? Don’t forget of course that Jana Dukatova (SVK) was the first World Champion in C1W in 2010.

There have been only six race winners from the last 20 World Cup races, of which half have been won by Jessica Fox (AUS) and four by 2016 series winner Mallory Franklin (GBR).

Franklin is looking to enjoy the 2017 season, her first on the Great Britain senior team. “I aim to constantly build on the consistency of my performance over the season,” she remarked.

K1M – Which of the young guns will triumph in France?

Jiri Prskavec starts 2016 as ICF World No. 1, World Champion, European Champion and Olympic bronze medallist. Competition is so tight among the Czech Republic team we will not see Vavra Hradilek racing.

“I want to be in perfect condition at the Europeans and at the World Championships, where I hope to be on the podium at least at one of these races,” commented Prskavec. “Wouldn’t it be cool to have three Czech K1M on the podium in France”, he added.

Rio Olympic Champion, Joe Clarke (GBR), looks sharp and set to gain even greater race consistency over the coming seasons. Expect to see him on the podium again soon. Looking at goals for 2017, Clarke is seeking to reach the finals consistently in all the races and challenge for the medals.

“It’s very fast and sometimes unpredictable. You need to be able to react fast and adapt to the water,” says Clarke about the World Championship course in Pau this September. 

Across the World Cup series, there have been 12 different winners across the last 4 season, more than in any other class. Six of these wins were from German paddlers; Aigner, Schubert, Boeckelmann & Doerfler.

Jakub Grigar (SVK) has rocketed up to 4th in the World Ranking. Just a year ago he was 54th. That is a dramatic rise, and he is still 19. Grigar has stiff competition, not least from Prskavec who is World Champion, three times European Champion and Olympic bronze medallist.

Three-time Olympian, Peter Kauzer (SLO), added an Olympic silver to his two World Championship, three World Cup series and European Championship titles.

“It’s not hard to be motivated when I’m doing what I love,” says Kauzer.

“I feel I still have something to show. Even though its post-Olympic season, we have two most important races at my favourite courses; Tacen and Pau. I’m curious if that last medal that was missing from my collection will give me extra push and calmness for seasons to come.”

Lee Valley World Championship bronze medallist, Michal Smolen (USA), is not setting his sights too high this year.

“Since it’s the first year of the new Olympic cycle I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself, to have a specific performance at any of the competitions this year,” he said.

“Instead, I’m looking at accomplishing more general goals like developing consistency in my racing and trying out different race strategies.”

K1W – Who will be the smoothest paddler in 2017?

Double Olympic medallist and World Champion Jess Fox is the most successful athlete over the last four seasons. Fox started and finished the 2016 season as ICF World No.1 in both K1W and C1W.

Rio Olympic Champion Maialen Chourraut (ESP) will be well prepared and quick again this season, particularly at her home Seu World Cup race and Pau World Championship course. Katerina Kudejova (CZE) has built on her World Championship win in 2015 to prove she is a consistent force with which to be reckoned.

Ricarda Funk (GER) is fighting hard. She rightfully secured the 2016 World Cup series. “I want to have fun and enjoy the season,” says Funk. “I am so happy to be back in the Team. Of course, it would be great, if I could race some finals. I like the course in Pau. It is so much fun to paddle there.”

Reigning European Champion, Melanie Pfeifer who took the German Olympic team K1W spot in Rio announced on social media that she is pregnant and not racing this year.

C2 – Which French crew will dominate this season’s podium?

Ladislav & Peter Skantar (SVK) were a dominant crew with gold in Rio. Across the last four years, they have won 5 World Cup races. This is not the most wins in C2, where Gauthier Klauss & Mathieu Peche (FRA) have won 6 World Cup races. Neither crew has been World Champion.

The French have incredible depth in this class with four crews on the podium during 2016.

The most recent World Champions Anton & Benzien (GER) and Saso & Taljat (SLO) remain strong. Look out for top junior crew Vojtech Mrusez & Albert Kaspar (CZE).

Thanks for continuing to use and follow #ICFslalom on Twitter. Read our 2016 ICF Canoe Slalom season review here where we heard from the five new Olympic Champions.

John Gregory - @gregiej

Canoe Slalom
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