Edinburgh canoeist David Florence believes he is peaking at the right time as he prepares to defend his two world slalom titles at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland this week.
The double Olympic silver medallist struck gold in the C1 singles and C2 doubles in Prague last September and recent form suggests that the 32-year-old is well capable of producing a repeat performance in America.
Florence was a close second in this summer’s World Cup C1 singles standings after winning in London and finishing second in Prague and Augsburg and he confirmed: “I’ll take confidence from my performances. I’ve had a really good season, even though you always want it to be better. Winning in London [at the Olympics] was fantastic and the season steadily built as it went along. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
His old rival, Slovak legend Michal Martikan, pipped him to the overall World Cup title by just 15 points, but Florence feels there is no clear favourite this week.
“The five World Cup races were won by five different athletes, and that shows the sport is so tight and the standard is so high,” he pointed out. “There are a number of athletes who are consistently fast and others who could win on the day with a great run.”
In the C2 class, Florence and Rich Hounslow, pictured right winning in Prague, were never in Cup contention after skipping the second race in Tacen in June, but last month’s third place in Augsburg sent an ominous warning to their rivals.
“It was good to get on the podium,” said Florence. “I’ve been more dominant this season in C1, but I think we’re paddling faster and better than we ever have in C2.
“The Skantars [Slovakia’s Ladislav and Peter] have been the outstanding boat across all the classes this summer, but we’re one of maybe five crews who are up there and are capable of winning on the day, especially if we get a bit of luck.
“The Hochschorners [five-time world champions Pavol and Peter] have not got any worse. The rest of the world has improved, and it looks like psychologically they have struggled to deal with that.”
This week’s unknown factor is the venue as the championships swap the sport’s traditional European home for a return to the States for the first time in 25 years, although they would have come in 2001 had it not been for the 9/11 tragedy.
“Canoeing is strongest in Europe, but it’s really good for the sport to go outside Europe,” said Florence. “The venue is only half an hour away from where they held the World Championships in 1989 when American Jon Lugbill won his fifth C1 world title [at Savage River]. US canoeists have finished first, second and third in the past, but in terms of their level, they’re not quite where they were.
“I had a good training block at Deep Creek for ten days during the World Cup break in the middle of summer. The course has some tricky sections, but I feel reasonably familiar with it now.
“Obviously I have very fond memories of Prague last year, although I’m aware that it doesn’t count for a great deal this week. Last year is being mentioned again and there’s greater expectation, but it doesn’t add any more pressure. I just went out to do the best I could last year, and it’ll be the same this time. If I can do that again, it will give me a good chance.”
Florence begins the defence of his titles in tomorrow’s C1 heats.