In a busy canoe slalom season one paddler has stood head and shoulders above the rest.
Germany’s Ricarda Funk has never been to the Olympics and never been a world champion, but in 2017 the 25-year-old has come up against and beaten quality K1 fields full of Olympic medallists and World title holders.
There was a slight hiccup at the start of the season, in Prague, but since then Funk has been unbeatable, stringing together four consecutive World Cup wins.
Week after week, paddlers emerged from the water believing they had done enough to win gold, only to watch in awe as Funk went even faster. Sometimes she even picked up penalties, but such has been her form it didn’t matter.
Now the big question for 2017 is about to be answered. Can the best women’s K1 paddler in the world put it together in the biggest race of the year, the 2017 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Pau, France?
Funk acknowledged after winning in Ivrea that she’s starred in this movie before, and on that occasion, it didn’t end well.
“I hate to be the favourite,” she said.
“I remember the Olympic selection last year, I was maybe the favourite and it didn’t end up so well.
“I hope it’s a learning process, so we will see what I will do at the World’s.”
But in the same interview Funk spoke of her belief that she is a different paddler to the one who finished 2016 broken hearted. She backed that up with her fourth consecutive World Cup win in La Seu earlier this month.
“I’m feeling really good,” Funk said.
“Yes there is a little bit of pressure, but I am paddling for me and not for anyone else. So I’m trying to do my best, and I want to be satisfied at the finish.
“Maybe it’s something in the head, or maybe I’m more focussed, or maybe it’s experience.”
Two-time Olympic medallist, Australia’s Jessica Fox, looms as the biggest threat to Funk, following three consecutive silver medals to finish off the World Cup season.
Rio gold medallist, Maialen Chourraut, won the opening World Cup of the season, but the Spaniard did not appear on the podium again until a bronze in La Seu.
Two-time World Champion, Austria’s Corinna Kuhnle, showed what she is capable of with a withering preliminary run in Ivrea, but has not finished on the podium this year.
Also competing this week will be former World Champions Jana Dukatova of Slovakia, Katerina Kudejova from the Czech Republic, and Germany’s Jasmin Schornberg.
The 2017 ICF Canoe Slalom and Wildwater World Chmpionships begin on Tuesday. For more information, please visit our webpage.
photo Wagner Araujo
photo Jay Adeff