SALMON Leap Canoe Club’s Liam Jegou became the first Team Ireland athlete to be selected for the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.
The 24-year-old will compete in the C1 category at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre in Tokyo from the July 26 to 27.
In so doing, he will become just the second Irish athlete ever to compete in the C1 Canoe Slalom at the Olympic Games after Mike Corcoran who last competed in Atlanta 1996, the year Jegou was born.
Vowing to seize his opportunity in Tokyo this summer, the France based racer said: “Being an Olympian has always been one of my biggest dreams. I started training when I was 11 or 12, the past month has been unbelievable knowing that I am going to compete for Team Ireland in the Olympics.
“In my sport, the Olympics is everything; it’s what everyone works for in their sport. It’s such a select thing; there’s only one athlete per nation that gets to go and when you go, you just want to give it your all.
“Most people only get to go to the Games once or twice in their lives and I’m certainly not going to let the opportunity pass me by.”
The canoe slalomist has already stamped his mark on the international stage, winning silver in the 2014 Junior World Championships and bronze in the 2019 Under-23 World Championships.
Canoeing Ireland Performance Director Jon Mackey described the significance of this for his sport: “It’s big for any sport to qualify for an Olympic Games. For canoeing, it’s great for the exposure of the sport, we are relatively small, and it’s great to tap into the proud tradition of Irish canoeing at the Olympic Games.”
Jegou was nominated for the 2020 slot after finishing on top in the three-race selection criteria, which included the World Championships in Spain, the event in which Ireland qualified the coveted Olympic berth courtesy of Robert Hendrick, another talented Irish racer.
The difference between C1 and K1 in canoeing is that the C1 category involves the athletes using a single-bladed paddle to propel the boat forward while kneeling in the canoe.
The K1 athlete is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle. C1 Canoe Slalom has been on the Olympic programme since 1992 as a men’s event, and 2020 is the first year that a C1 women’s event is included, in the IOC move towards a gender-balanced games.
Ireland has a rich history in K1 Canoe Slalom, with Ian Wiley and Eoin Rheinisch competing in the event for three Olympic Games each between 1992 and 2012.
Eadaoin Ní Challarain was the first Irish female canoe slalom racer, competing in the K1 in 2000 and 2004, and in London 2012 Hannah Craig raced in this event also.