Defending Olympic champion Liam Heath outlined his Tokyo intentions with a dominant season-opening performance at the sprint and paracanoe national selection event in Nottingham.
The 36-year-old marked his first outing on the water since the outbreak of coronavirus with an eye-opening time of 34.75s in his men’s K1 200m heat, before shaving off another 0.72s to top the ranks in the final.
Having secured his place at this summer’s rescheduled Games back in October 2019 Heath admitted he’d had a few nerves to contend with as he lined up at Holme Pierrepont, over a year since his last taste of competitive canoeing.
But following such an impressive showing the two-time world champion was pleased to have showcased all the hard work he has put in behind the scenes, as he prepares for a tilt at a second Olympic gold.
“It was a solid effort today,” he said. “I’m just relieved to be back out racing – as an athlete that’s what it’s all about.
“My last race was in September 2019, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since then. There have been ups and downs, but I’ve tried my best to crack on with training, with a fantastic support team behind me.
“It’s about building momentum now and going through microcycles to peak at each event, with the big one being Tokyo. I’ve been doing a lot of hard work but it’s completely different doing it for real, so I’m really pleased with this performance.
“At the moment I’m ticking all the right boxes. I’m very demanding of myself as an athlete and I know there are always things I can do better, but I’m pleased with where everything seems to be heading at the moment.”
With less than 100 days to go until Tokyo 2020 Heath is firmly focused on emulating his exploits of five years ago, when he added K1 200m gold and K2 200m silver to his bronze medal from the London Olympics four years earlier.
As a veteran of two Games the Guildford paddler believes his experience will serve him well in Japan, although he is unsure what to expect from the event in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.
He added: “Tokyo’s coming up quickly now – it always seems to take forever to arrive and then all of a sudden before you know it, it’s here.
“I’m just focusing on that end goal as much as possible, throwing myself into training, and hopefully I’ll be in my richest vein of form when it matters most.
“I’ve been to two Olympic Games and they were both really different, so I think it would have been unique no matter what the circumstances. I’m not sure what to expect but I’ll take confidence from being part of Team GB and I’ll be ready to hit it hard.”
British Canoeing is the national governing body for paddlesport in the UK