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Olympic champion Joe Clarke: 'Making Tokyo 2020 not guaraneteed'

Olympic champion Joe Clarke: 'Making Tokyo 2020 not guaraneteed'
© Reuters
The K1 gold medal has never been successfully defended at the Olympics.

Joe Clarke has Olympic history firmly in his cross hairs but pointed out that simply being on the start line in Tokyo next year is not a foregone conclusion.

The 26-year-old slalom canoeist clinched Britain's second gold medal at Rio 2016 in the men's singles kayak (K1) and he hopes to take the unprecedented step of defending his title in the Japanese capital.

However, Clarke's triumph in Brazil does not grant him automatic passage to the next Games, with three qualifying events this year set to determine the paddler's fate.

Clarke is sitting pretty after taking maximum points at Lee Valley White Water Centre, but further qualification events – the first World Cup round of the season next month at the same venue and September's World Championships in Spain – are keeping him alert.

Joe Clarke took gold in the men's singles kayak at Rio 2016 (Martin Rickett/PA)
Joe Clarke took gold in the men's singles kayak at Rio 2016 (Martin Rickett/PA)

Clarke told Press Association Sport: "The chance to become double Olympic champion in consecutive Olympics – nobody's ever won two golds in the men's K1 and that's the real aim for me, that's the motivation.

"But this year's a stepping stone to next year. If you get it wrong, you don't get the opportunity to go to next year, so it's putting all your eggs in one basket for that qualification.

"The public's expectation is that as Olympic champion you're pre-selected for the following Games because everybody you speak to doesn't really know the sport exactly.

"They say 'are you looking forward to Tokyo?' It's not quite that simple.

Clarke is firmly focused on qualifying for next year's Tokyo Olympics (Steven Paston/PA)
Clarke is firmly focused on qualifying for next year's Tokyo Olympics (Steven Paston/PA)

"There's only one person to go (from Britain) in such a quality field of men's K1 in the UK, you can never say 'I'm definitely going' until your name is written on that bit of paper as the person nominated for Team GB.

"I'm sitting in a really strong position at the moment but, with two races left, it's all about getting to that World Cup and putting down a really solid performance."

Since his Olympic gold, minor team medals are the best Clarke has managed at World and European Championships to date.

And he is understandably prioritising Olympic qualification ahead of this month's European Championships, which are being held in Pau, France, two weeks before he competes in the World Cup.

Joe Clarke is prioritising Olympic qualification over the European Championships (John Walton/PA)
Joe Clarke is prioritising Olympic qualification over the European Championships (John Walton/PA)

Clarke said: "This year is very interesting, the European Championships doesn't actually feature on our radar too much.

"Most important for me this year is to get selected for Tokyo and if that means not being on top form for the European Championships, that's what it means."

If he does progress to Tokyo, Clarke insists having already stood on the top step of the podium at the Olympics will lighten the load on his shoulders.

He added: "It would be nice to get another one, but no matter what happens I'll still have the one. A lot of people are missing that Olympic title from their medal cabinet, whereas I have it there.

"The internal pressure is getting to the Olympics and once you're there, it's just enjoying the experience because it is something that is absolutely phenomenal."


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Bronze medal winners Liam Heath and Jon Schofield of Great Britain celebrate during the medal ceremony for the Men's Kayak Double (K2) 200m Canoe Sprint on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Eton Dorney on August 11, 2012
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