Hungarian Hungry: Five-time Olympic Champ Kozak set to Return to Canoeing Competition This Year

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The Hungarian is hungry. Watch out, fellow women sprint paddlers: Five-time Olympic gold medalist Danuta Kozak of Hungary is set to make her much anticipated return to competition canoeing this year after taking the 2017 season off for the birth of her first child.

The 31-year-old Hungarian made canoeing history in Rio in 2016, becoming the first female paddler to win K1, K2 and K4 gold medals at the same Olympic Games. This showing followed double gold in the K-1 500 and K-4 500 at the London Olympics.

Ever the humble Hungarian, Kozak returned to training late last year, but is warning fans not to expect too much this season. “I do not think I’m going to top the rankings this year,” she says.

Don’t buy it. She’s clearly a front runner heading into the upcoming season–though she downplays her skill.

“I’m trying to find myself,” she says. “A lot of illnesses and injuries made my preparations harder, I hope I can stand up to the first selections.

“I started training in August, but every week I had a new problem, so it was difficult to make this happen,” she adds. “Besides, there are things to do, it’s not easy to be a mother, it’s a special job, but I hope I can prepare well this year ahead of 2019.”

And she’s not alone on the Hungarian squad. It’s expected to be a new-look Hungarian women’s team this summer, with three-time Olympic gold medallist Gabriella Szabo also set for full-time competition.

And making a surprise return to race paddling will be Natasa Douchev-Janics, a three-time Olympic champion who made her games debut in Sydney in 2000, won two gold medals in Athens in 2004 and then a third gold medal in Beijing in 2008.

35-year-old Douchev-Janics won silver and bronze in London in 2012, but did not compete last year after missing the 200 metre final in Rio in 2016.

The depth of women’s paddling in Hungary was underlined last year with a stunning World Championship victory in the women’s K4, despite the absence of so many star athletes.

It’s expected to make competition for places on Hungary’s World Championship team this year particularly intense.