With the Tokyo Olympic Games qualifying event around the corner and over a year without competition, South Africa’s premier sprint paddlers Chrisjan Coetzee and Esti Olivier (neé Van Tonder) are eager to begin their international season at the first ICF Sprint World Cup in Szeged this weekend.
Olivier will be racing in the 200m and 500m K1 events while Coetzee will take on the 1000m and 500m K1 races in a bid to get in some crucial racing before they head to Russia for the Olympic Qualifying event next week.
Olympic qualification is the ultimate goal for both of the paddlers and the primary task for Chrisjan Coetzee is now to secure a spot in the 1000 metre K1 starting line-up and for him it’s a big shift from his usual focus on the 200m.
“This is a new challenge for me racing the 1000m and not the 200m for a last shot at Tokyo qualification,” Coetzee said. “Training has changed quite a bit and this will be the first time in many, many years that I am racing the 1000m internationally but I am looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be a challenge but I am keen to see where I stack up against the rest of the world.”
The curtain-raiser this weekend will be a good chance for Coetzee to gauge his form given he hasn’t raced internationally since the end of 2019.
“This weekend’s race is very important and a good chance to get the feel of the thousand again and go through racing heats, semi-finals and finals and see how I compare against the field.
“I am very keen to see what I can achieve over the K1 1000m. I’ve put in some good preparation and I’m feeling good at the moment so I’m positive and happy to have this opportunity to race again.”
It’s a similar approach for Olivier who is hoping that she can find some good form this weekend with a hard block of racing ahead of her over the next ten days.
“This weekend is all about seeing how well and how consistent I can be in executing my race plan,” Olivier said. “I also want to use it as an opportunity to push my mental limits with regards to how much I can put out physically.
“There will be some tough racing on the cards which will be a great measure before the qualifying event next week in Russia.”
President of Canoeing South Africa Kim Pople is excited to see South African paddlers back on the international stage and knows that they are in safe hands in Europe.
“With the Covid complications regarding international travelling at present, it was a relief to receive messages from both Esti and Chrisjan, that they are safe in Hungary and settling into their accommodation in Szeged,” Pople said.
“They will be Covid-19 tested during this period and our athlete’s health is a top priority for us all. We are excited to watch our team race internationally again. Next week is the big one in Barnaul in Russia, and they have our full support and best wishes.”