Women paddle into history in canoe slalom heats

Jane Nicholas of Team Cook Islands competes during the Women's Canoe Slalom Heats. Photo: Getty Images
Jane Nicholas of Team Cook Islands competes during the Women's Canoe Slalom Heats. Photo: Getty Images
Jane Nicholas from the Cook Islands paddled into history on Wednesday, becoming the first woman to compete in an Olympic canoe slalom event as the sport and the Games move closer to gender parity.

She was the first of 22 women canoeists who shot down the man-made white water course in Tokyo, with 18, including all the medal favourites, going through to the semi-finals on Thursday.

Britain's Mallory Franklin, the 2017 world champion, set the fastest time of 105.06 seconds.

Australian Jessica Fox, four-times canoe slalom world champion, also qualified. Fox won a bronze medal in the kayak slalom on the same course on Tuesday.

Fox and other women paddlers have campaigned to get the women’s canoe slalom added to the Olympic programme, which they hope will help garner greater public interest for the sport and with it more funding and access to better training and coaching.

"I have had to fight for 12 years just to get here, so it's really special to me," said Canada's Haley Daniels after she was eliminated in the heats.

Her male team mate Michael Tayler expressed his support.

"It seemed like a no brainer, well why wouldn't there by a women's canoe class and there is no real good answer to why there was not one. A lot of good people had to push hard to get it into the Olympics," Tayler said after the men's kayak slalom.

Women athletes in sports ranging from boxing to shooting have fought for a more equal footing with their male counterparts, winning an International Olympic Committee commitment to gender parity.

In the semi-final, Mallory and Fox will contend with the likes of Germany's Andrea Herzog, who at 21 years old is the reigning world champion, and Ana Satila from Brazil.

Cook Islander Nicholas, a doctor, was among the four women eliminated in the heats.

New Zealand's Luuka Jones qualified for the Olympic canoe slalom semifinal by posting the tenth-fastest time in the preliminary heats.

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