|Germany and Belarus picked up two gold medals each while Spain, China and host nation Hungary were also triumphant on the first day of medal racing at the ICF canoe sprint world championships in Szeged.
There were no Olympic quotas up for grabs on Friday, but that didn’t lessen the emotion and the ferocity of the racing as a massive Hungarian crowd reveled in the excitement of having the world’s best athletes on show.
Belarus’s K2 200 combination of Volha Khudzenka and Maryna Litvinchuk have their sights set on the Olympic K2 500 distance this weekend, and warmed up in the best possible fashion with a hard fought and emotional win over Friday’s shorter distance.
“200 metres is a very hard distance, and it can be emotional,” Khudzenka said.
“We are very happy now, but we must focus on the Olympic discipline now,” Litvinchuk said.
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Teammate Alena Nazdrova successfully turned the tables on Russia’s Kseniia Kurach in the C1 500, reversing the result from the world championships 12 months ago. Nazdrova’s main focus is the C1 200, which will make its Olympic debut next year.
“I am not ready to be happy yet, because I have another race, and the next final must be good,” Nazdrova said.
“The 200 must be my focus. The Olympics is my target, because it is the first time women’s canoe will be in the Games and I want to be there.”
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Germany’s Tom Leibscher spends nearly all of his time in the men’s K4 boat, but took the opportunity in Hungary to race over the non-Olympic K1 500 distance. He said winning the gold was a bonus, but his focus is on the team boat.
“The K1 500 is always a special race, especially in this venue,” Liebscher said.
“In 2013 I was the young guy who wanted to beat the older guys, and now it turns to my side. My coach asked if I wanted to do the K1, but we had to make sure it didn’t disturb the rhythm of the K4, and that in my training that I’m focussed fully on the K4.
“I think I did it, and now it is time to go in the K4.”
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Germany’s second gold came in the men’s K4 1000, with the crew of Lukas Reuschenbach, Felix Frank, Jakob Thorsden and Tobias-Pascal Schultz beating out the crews from Russia and Slovakia to defend the gold they won last year.
“it was absolutely amazing, it is so loud here and there are so many people,” Jakob Thordsen, one of the two remaining crew members from 2018’s boat, said.
“We had a really good second 250 and managed to get quite a good lead. For the last 200 I thought we can only lose it from here on. It is really hard in Germany because there are so many good kayak men. Maybe after Tokyo we can beat the old guys.”
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China has established itself as a world power in the canoe disciplines, especially in team boats. Song Xing and Qiang Li posted one of the most dominant wins of the day in the men’s C2 500, finishing more than one second ahead of Hungary and Spain.
“We’ve been doing a lot of training for these world championships,” Xing said.
“This is a good start for our Chinese team. Our goal is a medal in Tokyo in the C2 1000.”
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Hungary’s win came in the women’s K2 1000, with Reka Hagymasi and Erika Medveczky cruising to gold ahead of Germany and Mexico. It was the first canoe sprint gold medal for Hungary, giving the Szeged crowd reason to celebrate.
“It’s magic for us, the people are amazing,” Medveczky said.
“There’s no pressure, it is more excitement. We are always a little bit nervous, because it’s a world championships final.”
Spain’s Alberto Pedrero and Pablo Grana held on to win the men’s C2 200 in one of the closest finishes of the day. Less than one second covered the first five boats, with Poland finished second and Uzbekistan taking third.
“In the last few metres we didn’t feel very good because we didn’t know if we had won,” Pedrero said.
“We were very nervous, but confident at the same time. We had the best time in the heats. This is our goal, to be a world champion.”
The 2019 ICF canoe sprint world championships continue on Saturday in Hungary.