Britain’s double world champion David Florence did his Rio 2016 aspirations a power of good by taking gold in the C1 and then doubling with partner Richard Hounslow to take silver in the C2 at the Olympic canoe slalom test event in the Brazilian city.
The venue in Deodoro, described as “beautiful” by triple Olympic champion and International Canoe Federation vice-president Tony Estanguet at the official opening of the test, turned out to be a beast as well, with 122 of the world’s best paddlers encountering dramatically varying conditions during the action.
Racing was split into two clear sessions, with the men’s C1 and K1 classes completing their runs in bright sunshine and the men’s C2 and women’s K1 competition taking place in torrential rain interspersed with thunder and lightning.
In the men’s C1, 33-year-old Scot Florence, who took individual Olympic silver in 2008 and silver with Hounslow at London 2012, finished 1.12 seconds ahead of Japan’s Takuya Haneda, with bronze going to Cameron Smedley of Canada.
Then he and Hounslow finished 3.58sec behind Slovenia’s Luka Bozic and Saso Taljat in the rain-swept C2 final, and just 0.06 clear of the Russian pairing of Mikhail Kuznetov and Dmitry Larionov.
Underlining the course’s difficulty, Florence said: "They have set the gates really, really hard for this competition.
“I have seen a lot of mistakes from a lot of athletes.
“Not many people managed to have a perfect run.
“It was really difficult."
France’s 24-year-old rising star Mathieu Biazizzo managed to squeeze a three-second advantage over his closest rivals at the top end of the K1 course, a margin he retained until the end.
"In the semi-final I felt slow, like I was under the water all the time,” said the 2014 World Championship bronze medallist.
“But in the final I was kind of flying, it was really great."
Biazizzo's compatriot, Sebastien Combot, took bronze, with Germany's Sebastian Schubert earning silver.
In the women’s K1 event, 38-year-old Violetta Obliger-Peters of Austria turned back the clock and demonstrated superb composure to set a target time of 105.77 that was eventually unanswered by the world-class roster.
Fourth out of the blocks, the Austrian was over a second quicker than the rest of the field, managing to hold off challenges from the recently crowned world champion, Katerina Kudejova of the Czech Republic, who took silver, and eventual bronze medallist Maialen Chourrant of Spain.
France’s London 2012 champion Emilie Fer found it hard going, eventually having to settle for fifth place, more than 21 seconds behind the winner.
Estanguet, winner of Olympic gold medals at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and London 2012, made his admiration for the course clear on the opening day.
“This place is fantastic, really beautiful,” the now-retired star said after becoming one of the first to negotiate the 280 metres-long course.
"I couldn’t have imagined it when I came to visit two years ago and they showed me the place.
"Now I can see the final result and it’s marvellous.
"It is what the best canoeists want - demanding and challenging.
“Every five metres the course presents a different challenge.”
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