Other Sports Olympics British paddler Clarke says Paris offers chance of
Other Sports Olympics British paddler Clarke says Paris offers chance of

Other Sports: Olympics-British paddler Clarke says Paris offers chance of redemption

WALTHAM CROSS, England (Reuters) – English paddler Joe Clarke has waited a long time to renew his Olympic canoe slalom rivalry with Jiri Prskavec but the countdown can officially begin after he was named in a high-calibre British team for the Paris Olympics on Wednesday.

Clarke, who won kayak K1 gold in Rio in 2016, will be joined by reigning canoe C1 world champion Mallory Franklin, kayak cross world champion Kimberley Woods and Adam Burgess in what is regarded as the strongest British squad ever assembled.

The 31-year-old was denied the chance to defend his title in Tokyo after failing to gain selection and makes no secret of the fact that Paris offers a shot at redemption.

It also offers him the chance to become the first athlete to win two Olympic gold medals in K1 — the same mission being pursued by Tokyo champion Prskavec who Clarke beat in Rio and pipped to the world title on home waters this year.

“I had worked so hard to get the spot (for Tokyo) and didn’t make it, but sport can be harsh at times,” Clarke told Reuters from the state-of-the-art Waltham Cross White Water Centre that was built for the London 2012 Olympics and where the team train.

“It’s about how you bounce back from things and it took a bit of time to be fair. For me this is redemption time.

“There’s almost a bad omen about winning the men’s kayak at the Olympics, no one has ever been able to defend the title and Prskavec will be the first to go to consecutive Games after winning gold. For me the motivation is that nobody has ever won two gold medals in that event.

“I get on well with Jiri, it’s not a grudge match, but we both have our eyes on the prize.”

Settling scores will be a driving force for a British team that dominated this year’s home world championships.

Franklin, Britain’s most-decorated canoe slalomist, was beaten to gold by Australian great and career rival Jessica Fox when C1 made it’s women’s debut at the Tokyo Games.

Although the 29-year-old Franklin did come out on top at this year’s worlds when Woods took silver and Fox the bronze after incurring some time penalties.

“The Olympics is a different ball game entirely,” Franklin, a seven-time world champion, said.

“I beat Jess here this year but that’s home advantage a little. It was nice that I was the step above her but she’s such a formidable paddler that she’ll always come back fighting and we’ll see what happens when we get to Paris.”

For Woods too, Paris offers the chance to erase the pain of Tokyo when she suffered 56 seconds of time penalties in the K1 final and finished last — breaking down in tears afterwards.

“I still have days when I think about it,” Woods, who has spoken openly about mental health, told Reuters.

“I’ve learnt a lot from those Games and don’t ever want to put myself in that position again.”

Burgess finished fourth in the C1 in Tokyo but believes his time is coming, even if this season has been frustrating.

“Racing for qualification has been intense and tiring but once you’re there it’s only opportunity,” Burgess, nursing a broken little finger, said at Waltham Cross.

“Tokyo was bittersweet. It was heartbreaking to narrowly miss the podium. But I’ve got one date in my calendar now, the end of July next year, I can’t wait.”

The Olympics will feature men’s and women’s C1 and K1 as well as the kayak cross event which will make its debut in Paris.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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