Located in the heart of the Deodoro zone, Whitewater Stadium had a sell-out crowd in attendance for the canoe and kayak slalom heats during Day 2 of the Rio Olympics.
Sunday afternoon’s slalom heats didn’t come without some technical issues though. On Thursday afternoon, a malfunction of the power supply distribution to the pumping station affected the water flow delivery and caused cancellation of training sessions at Whitewater Stadium.
Kayaker Michal Smolen, however, took advantage of the down time.
Speaking of down time, heavy winds caused the start of the men’s canoe single (C1) and kayak single (K1) heats to be delayed an hour. The International Canoe Federation stated that winds caused the gate poles to move too much and would make it difficult for athletes to navigate the gates.
A total of 40 combined canoe/kayak slalom athletes raced in the heats. Each athlete must pass through 24 gates in the fastest time possible, while doing their best to avoid any penalties. A touched gate results in a two-second penalty and a completely missed gate results in a 50-second penalty.
Nineteen of the world's best C1 athletes fought for a top 14 position in the heats to advance to the semi-finals, the rest were eliminated.
After the conclusion of both heats, Germany’s Sideris Tasiadis finished first overall (92.23 seconds – run 2), France’s Denis Gargaud Chanut finished second (93.48 – run 2), and Great Britain’s David Florence finished third overall (94.11 – run 1).
The first heat races showed expected and unexpected results. Slovakia’s Benjamin Savsek, the gold medal favorite, had two uncharacteristic two-second penalties. He crossed the finish in 95.69 seconds – which would have placed him in third – but 4 seconds were added for his penalties accrued, placing him in seventh overall in the first set of heats.
Great Britain’s David Florence won the first heat with a time of 94.11 and Slovakia’s Matej Benus finished in 95.02 and placed second overall. Poland’s Grzegorz Hedwig had an unexpected great run and finished third overall in 96.67. American Casey Eichfeld sits comfortably in eighth place after finishing in 100.02, including his two-second penalty.
Britain’s David Florence decided not to race in the second heat and ended up third overall. Savsek cleaned up his first heat run and finished fourth in 94.36. Benus may have crossed the finish in a rapid 90.78 seconds but accrued three two-second penalties which raised his second heat run to 96.78, finishing sixth overall.
In the men’s K1, twenty-one athletes compete for the top 15 spots to advance to the semi-finals. The six remaining will be eliminated.
After both kayak heats, the overall top-three finishers were: Italy’s Giovanni De Gennaro (86.85 seconds – run 1), Great Britain’s Joseph Clarke (86.95 – run 2) and Germany’s Hannes Aigner (87.31 – run 2).
Hometown hero, Brazil’s Pedro Da Silva came out charging early and topped the leaderboard for the majority of the heat one runs with a time of 88.48 seconds. It wasn’t until De Gennaro – who was 17 on the start list – took the lead away from Da Silva.
Medal favorites Slovakia’s Jakub Grigar (89.16) and reigning world and European champion, Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec (88.71) finished in fourth and third place overall. American Michal Smolen is still in the running to make the semifinal round, as he sits in 11th place finishing in a time of 92.96.
Grigar improved from his first run and finished in 87.85. Prskavec however, made an uncharacteristic mistake and misjudged the course costing him at least nine non-penalty seconds. Smolen improved his time by over two seconds, finishing in 90.13 and finished 10th overall.
If Smolen or Da Silva land a spot on the podium in Rio, they would become the first athlete(s) from the Americas to win an Olympic medal in the men’s slalom kayak event.
New Zealand’s Mike Dawson had a great first run of 88.91 and finished sixth overall. Watch the video below of Dawson giving back to the Rio community as part of his Olympic journey.
Buddhist priest and three-time Olympian, Japan’s Kazuki Yazawa finished 14th overall.