On the eve of canoe slalom's national championships, officials and competitors are also casting a longer eye towards the biggest event to hit New Zealand's shores.
This Saturday marks exactly two years until the start of the 2021 ICF junior and under-23 world championships in Auckland. It will be the first time New Zealand has hosted a world championship, with the Vector Wero Whitewater Park in Manukau set down as the venue for the week-long event.
"These next two years are going to go pretty quickly and we've already been putting a lot of work into making sure the event will be totally memorable and amazing for everyone involved," Canoe Slalom New Zealand chairman Kerry Bloor says.
"Having a world-class artificial venue like Vector Wero has been a game-changer for the sport in New Zealand but we're also very keen for visitors to see what else the country has to offer, with our beautiful natural rivers and courses."
Those natural venues include the Tarawera River in Kawerau, venue for the three-day national championships which start tomorrow, plus renowned sites like the Kaituna River near Rotorua, the Mangahao River near Shannon and the pristine Tekapo Whitewater Course in Canterbury.
New Zealand has become a key destination for European paddlers training in their off-season since Vector Wero's opening in 2016, which has helped the under-23 and junior world championship attract significant investment from economic growth agency Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (ATEED) and the Government's Major Events Development Fund. Sport New Zealand has also contributed with funding for new technology, including state of the art timing gates.
Top French paddler Camille Prigent is one who has made regular appearances in New Zealand over the last three years, attracted by the easy access to a variety of training spots, as well as the chance to train with Olympic silver medalist, Kiwi Luuka Jones, from Tauranga.
"I came to train in good conditions to prepare for the season but also to discover new places in this beautiful country," Camille says.
"I trained a lot on the Kaituna and also at Wero to prepare for the races there and to train on a bigger slalom course. It was a really good place for me to train because there are a lot of stoppers so you can do many different moves and it's great preparation for international races."
The 2021 event will also cap a huge sporting summer in Auckland.
"International competitors coming to Auckland for the 2021 ICF Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships will be blown away by what's on offer," Stuart Turner, ATEED's head of major events, says.
"Not only will they get the chance to train and compete on our world-class artificial course, they will get to experience a city fresh from the 36th America's Cup action. Auckland is gearing up for a mega year in 2021 with a feast of major sporting events sure to cement Auckland’s place as an award-winning sports city.”
This year's under-23 and junior world championships will be held in Poland, with Slovenia hosting the 2020 event. New Zealand's turn in 2021 will be only the second time the event has been held in the Southern Hemisphere since it was first held in 1986, with the 2014 event held in Penrith, Australia.
"It is so exciting for our sport to be heading to New Zealand for such a major event," ICF President Jose Perurena says.
"The junior and U23 ICF canoe slalom world championships showcases the future of our sport, and it will also provide an opportunity to showcase an exciting new venue. Many of the world's best athletes head to Auckland every New Zealand summer to train and compete at the new venue, and now the world's best young paddlers will get the chance to test themselves there.
“We also know the New Zealanders will put on a fantastic show. The country has really stepped up as a canoeing stronghold in recent years, with Luuka Jones's K1 silver medal at the Rio Olympics a particular highlight.
“We are confident the 2021 ICF Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships will strengthen further canoe slalom paddling in New Zealand and the region."
As part of the buildup, Vector Wero will host the next two Oceania championships, in February next year and in March 2021. Next year's event will double as the Oceania continental Olympic qualifying race.