Silver stars come out for canoe slalom champs

Jess Fox cuts a relatively anonymous figure in Sydney, while Vavra Hradlilek is something of a rock star in his native Czech Republic.

Two threads link the unlikely K1 pair together, however. Both are Olympic sliver medalists in canoe slalom and both are lining up on the Mangahao River near Shannon this weekend for the Oceania championships.

The championships double as the New Zealand Open and have attracted a solid core of top overseas paddlers, including 18-year-old Australian Fox, who stunned the kayaking world with her brilliant paddle in London last year.

"After the Olympics, I had a lot of media coverage and I tried to promote the sport as much as I could but it's still a lower profile sport that people only really see every four years," Fox said. "Hopefully this will change but, on the bright side, less people are calling it rowing."

Fox belongs to one of canoe slalom's royal families - her father Richard Fox was a five-time world champion whose best Olympic finish was fourth in 1992, while her mother and coach Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi won bronze for France in 1996.

She last raced in New Zealand as a 16-year-old two years ago, finishing ninth, and is looking forward to resuming her rivalry with fellow Olympian, Kiwi Luuka Jones, and top Czech junior Karolina Galuskova, who won the New Zealand Open title last year.

"Luuka's a great all-round whitewater kayaker and I've competed against her for the last three years - she also knows the course really well. It's a good course, with some tricky features and a nice drop down the bottom with fast water. I like the location because you're in a rainforest and it's a nice change from paddling on Penrith's artificial course."

Hradilek, meanwhile, has returned to New Zealand for the fifth time. He's enjoyed the Antipodean summers every year since he made his Olympic debut in Beijing, training with top Kiwi and good mate Mike Dawson in Rotorua.

Life has become a little bit more hectic for the 25-year-old after his silver medal-winning run.

"It's been quite a mission to get through all the media stuff after the Games and it's been a bit of a life change with people recognising me in the street and that sort of thing," Hradilek said. "It hasn't changed me, but I am quite pleased to be down here in New Zealand and having a break from all that stuff."

Hradilek won the Oceania title shortly after competing in Beijing, though he'll face stiff competition this weekend from former world champion Fabian Doerfler (Germany) and top Australian Lucien Delfour.

New Zealand's Mike Dawson, who also competed at the London Games, is still recuperating from a broken back suffered while paddling in Chile late last year. Aaron Osborne is expected to lead the Kiwi charge after winning last weekend's national selection round in Kawerau.

Leading junior Jessica Bailey is also in impressive form, with the Wanaka teenager recently claiming silver at the Australian Youth Olympic festival in Penrith.

French paddler Thibaud Vielliard is expected to lead the C1 charge, along with Pavel Foukel (Czech) and Australians Ian Borrows and Robin Jeffery, with under-23 paddler Ben Gibb one of the top local hopes.

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- APNZ

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