World champion Ondrej Tunka will highlight the opening event of the international canoe slalom year, joining athletes from seven countries at the New Zealand Open on the Mangahao River near Palmerston North this weekend.
Czech Republic’s Tunka, who collected K1 men’s gold in France last year, heads a strong cast of paddlers, including top Kiwi Mike Dawson, defending champion Australian Lucien Delfour and Michel Smolen (United States) in the two-day competition.
Leading the women’s field will be Tunka’s compatriot, Katerina Kudejova, who won the 2015 world championships in London in the K1.  Olympic silver medalist and top Kiwi Luuka Jones, 13th at the last world championships, will try and defend her K1 title, with another Czech, Veronika Vojtova, capping a strong top-three.
Jones will also line up in the women’s C1, alongside fellow Kiwi Kelly Travers, who beat her last year.
There is guaranteed to be a new champion in the men's C1 event, with defending champion Frenchman Thibault Blaise not entering this year.
Kiwi Ben Gibb was third last year and will back his chances of taking top spot on the podium this year, as will Kiwi Patrick Washer.
The New Zealand Open carries ICF ranking points and will be used as a New Zealand selection event, as well as a buildup for next week’s Oceania championships in Auckland.
Jamie Troughton
Canoe Slalom