The world’s best young canoeists and kayakers served up quite a spectacle at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018, showcasing their skills in the obstacle slalom and head-to-head sprint formats. Hungary topped the medal table with two golds, while canoe slalom specialist Terence Saramandif won Mauritius’ first-ever Olympic title.
The YOG slalom and sprint events represent a departure from the traditional Olympic formats. In the head-to-head sprints, athletes compete in pairs – against the clock rather than each other – starting on opposite sides of a circular course and completing one full circuit of it. In the slalom events, competitors race in twos, launching themselves from a ramp before negotiating gates on parallel courses.
Joy for Rendessy and Bakhraddin
The first canoe/kayak medals of Buenos Aires 2018 were awarded on Friday 12 October before a typically large and enthusiastic crowd at the Urban Park in Puerto Madero, creating a spectacular backdrop for the action on the water.
The day’s first gold medallist was Hungary’s Eszter Rendessy in the women’s kayak head-to-head sprint. Her winning time of 1:46.21 proved too fast for Slovakia’s Katarina Pecusova in the final, while Kazakhstan’s Stella Sukhanova got the better of Germany’s Gina Zint to claim the bronze.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine winning this gold. I was very nervous,” said Rendessy after her victory. “I will take away great memories from Buenos Aires. The Argentinians are very friendly and welcoming people.”
In the men’s canoe sprint final, Dias Bakhraddin beat Uzbekistan’s Islomjon Abdusalomov by well over a second to bring Kazakhstan a gold to go with Sukhanova’s bronze. “We want to thank the fans for their support. We will be leaving Argentina very, very happy because we managed to win two medals for our country,” said the newly-crowned champion. In the battle for the bronze, Czech Republic’s Jiri Minarik overcame Hungary’s Balasz Palla.
Fayzeva and Kiss too good
The following day saw Uzbekistan’s Gulbakhor Fayzeva romp to victory in the women’s canoe sprint final, completing the course in a time of 2:06.28 to beat Laura Gonczol of Hungary by nearly ten seconds. Fayzeva had been in imperious form throughout the competition, going fastest in the qualification heats and then winning her last 16, quarter-final and semi-final races with plenty to spare. Mexico’s Stephanie Angel Rodriguez Guzman defeated Fayzeva’s semi-final victim, Elnura Nurlanova of Kazakhstan, to win the bronze.
The honours in the men’s kayak sprint went to Hungary’s Adam Kiss, who won his country’s second canoe/kayak gold of Buenos Aires 2018 courtesy of an exciting victory over Belgium’s Jules Vangeel in the final.
“I might not look it but I’m happy,” said Kiss afterwards. “I’ve been looking for this a long time. I’ve been thinking about the competition for so long, but now I can go and enjoy the Olympic Village and get to know something of Buenos Aires.”
Saramandif scores a first
History was made in the men’s canoe obstacle slalom final as the national anthem of Mauritius sounded for the very first time at an Olympic medal ceremony. The African nation, whose only previous Olympic medal was the bantamweight bronze won by boxer Bruno Julie at Beijing 2008, celebrated when Terence Saramandif produced a storming finish to earn victory by over four seconds against New Zealand’s Finn Anderson. Spain’s Yoel Becerra Bernárdez completed the podium.
“This is the end of a long process. I’ve trained hard over this last year and I prepared for a tough competition,” said Saramandif. “I’ve been doing slalom since I was nine. My whole family came to Buenos Aires to support me. My aim now is to help develop canoeing in my country.”
“I had a great fight with my opponent from New Zealand,” added the Mauritian. “It’s such a pleasure for me to be here, and I’ve had some wonderful moments in Buenos Aires. It’s an event not to be missed, and it’s a springboard for my career. This title is for canoe/kayak in Mauritius and it’s going to help it grow. This is the start for the sport on my island.”
The women’s kayak obstacle slalom gold was claimed by Slovakia’s Emanuela Luknarova, who edged out France’s Doriane Delassus in a hard-fought final. “I’ve been feeling very strong all day,” said the smiling Slovakian after completing her impressive run to gold. “I was a bit nervous before the final, but it felt amazing when I crossed the line.” Chinese Taipei’s Tzu-Hsuan Lai beat Germany’s Zola Charlotte Lewandowski to take the last place on the podium.
Delassus was in action in the canoe obstacle final the following day, climbing one step higher on the podium after beating Lewandowski in the final. Luknarova won the bronze to collect her second medal of Buenos Aires 2018.
In the men’s kayak obstacle, Argentina’s Rossi had no doubt he had come up against a class act when losing to Slovenia’s Lan Tominc in the quarter-finals: “He’s a star. I’m sure he’s going to win the final.”Rossi’s prediction turned out to be correct as the Slovenian clocked 1:08.950 to win by nearly a second against China’s Changheng Guan, who had gone fastest in the heats. France’s Tom Bouchardon claimed the bronze. “I am so happy,” said Tominc. “I’ve been preparing for this event for a year, and my grandparents have come from Slovenia to support me.”