Slovenian slalom paddlers started their selection race series for senior slalom team and an Olympic team on Saturday. But Slovenians are not the only ones who fight for Olympic spots these days.
Australians, Britons, Brazilians, Canadians, Chinese, Spaniards and French already finished their selection races for Olympic teams and we also know who will represent Belgium, Cook Islands, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, New Zealand and Thailand in London. The selection races brought many surprises and we’ll see few unexpected names competing at the Olympics. Nigerian Johnathan Akinyemi won at the African Olympic Qualifications and beat medal holder from the previous Olympics in Beijing Benjamin Boukpeti from Togo. Nigerian will start at the Olympics for the first time. Things aren’t just over yet for bronze medallist from 2008, because his national federation applied for special invitation last fall, so Boukpeti might still start in London.
French selection races were one of the most interesting and they also brought a huge surprise. One of the most successful kayakers of all times Fabien Lefevre (3rd at OG in Athens and 2nd at OG in Beijing) had to congratulate younger competitors this time. In kayak event 22-year old Etienne Daille won an Olympic spot after he beat Boris Neveu, second placed from World Championships in 2009, in the last race. Fabien Lefevre competed together with Denis Gargaud Chanut also in Canadian doubles. This duo was considered one of the main favourites for the win, but Gauthier Klauss and Mathieu Peche won the selection races, so Lefevre, who won four medals at last year World Championships, will have to follow the OG from the distance. Canadian selection races also turned out to be very interesting. Young Michael Tayler shocked experienced paddlers David Ford and John Hastings. The young paddler is a true mystery also for canoeing experts – he never before managed to get into the senior team. Great Britain also produced some interesting selection races. Kayaker Richard Hounslow beat Campbell Walsh (2nd at OG in Athens). Since canoeist David Florence with whom Hounslow competes also in Canadian double got the Olympic spot as well, Great Britain will have two C2s at the Olympics in London. The rules allow the competitors who qualified for the Olympics in individual events also to start in Canadian double. So, besides the previously mentioned competitors who will have a double programme, also Tim Baille and Etienne Stott will have an opportunity to compete at the Olympics in front of the home crowd.
The only known slalom paddler in Slovenian Olympic team, Peter Kauzer, was quite surprised with the Olympic selections abroad: “Obviously the time for a change of generations came, but I still persist and don’t want to be replaced just yet. I was very shocked when I saw that Boris Neveu or Fabien Levefre didn’t qualify for the Olympics in France. There was a shock also in Canada where 20-year old paddler who never before paddled in senior team got an Olympic spot. These are selection races for OG and the pressure is very high and a lot is at a stake, so those who weren’t so good before really made a big progress. At the end those who had a lot of luck at the selection races will go to OG. I feel sorry for Campbell Walsh who missed an Olympic spot at the last race for less than a tenth of a second, but at the same time I congratulate Richard Hounslow who competed really well. Now, Great Britain will have two Canadian doubles at OG which is also good. They made that possible with combining the categories, so this is good. The next two weeks will be really interesting, because the Czechs, Germans, Italians … still need to conclude their selections.”
Slovenian competitors are also in the process of the selection races. The second selection race will take place this Thursday in Tacen, while third, fourth and fifth race will follow on Saturday and Sunday also in Tacen during the ICF Ranking race. Out of five selection races four best results will count at the end, while the criteria for Olympic team is even stricter. For obtaining an Olympic spot the competitor will have to win at four selection races if he or she wants to gain the Olympic ticket after the selection races. In case they fail to get the Olympic spot after the races at home, the best placed competitor (out of the two best ranked at selection races in Solkan and Tacen) at European Championships in Augsburg will get into the Olympic team.