World champions to kick off Canoe Polo World Games program

Current women’s world champions, New Zealand, will kick-off the Canoe Polo competition at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw on Friday with a match against Italy, fifth placegetters at the last World Championships.

In a quirk of the draw Italy, the current men’s world champions, will take on New Zealand in their first game of the competition. New Zealand also finished fifth at the most recent World Championships.

One of the matches of the day on Friday will come in the men’s draw when Italy takes on current World Games champions, Germany, while the afternoon clash between New Zealand and Spain in the men’s draw will go a long towards shaping the final four.

Canada will be making its first appearance at a World Games, and will take on reigning World Games gold medallists Germany in its first match.

Kristina O’Brien, who played for Canada as a 13-year-old at the 1996 World Championships, said Friday will be a special day for her team.

“This is just a dream come true to be here,” she said.

“This is the hardest our team has ever worked for an event.”

O’Brien is perfectly situated to deal with the pressure of playing on the big stage. Along with her teenage debut at a World Championships, her parents were also high achievers.

My mum was in the 1968 Olympics for gymnastics, and dad and his brother were a long time in canoe slalom,” O’Brien said.

“They qualified for the 1992 World Championships, but our country didn’t send them.

“My dad and uncle got introduced to the sport in Europe, it’s a bit bigger there, and took it back to Canada, probably in the early 90’s. I’ve been playing it ever since.”

Canada is a canoe polo success story. Next year Ontario will host the sport’s World Championships, and O’Brien is hoping the excitement surrounding the event will allow it to grow even further.

 “It’s just such an awesome team sport,” she said.

“In our country men and women play very well together, and I think why I’ve stayed in it for so long is it draws a really unique group of people who are dedicated to try and make the sport develop, in not so easy circumstances in our country.

“In Canada we have to play indoors a lot, so some of the girls on our team are lifeguards who are watching the sport. People get introduced to kayaking and they just want to learn to kayak. Then they get used to throwing the ball around.” 

Follow the live stream from Friday morning here.

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