PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Returning to challenge familiar waters on Prague's Vltava River, Vavřinec Hradilek received an overwhelming reception at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup this weekend, just over three weeks since his Olympic silver medal showing in London.
"It's my home course and my home environment and when I'm here I know every single face," said Hradilek following Saturday's K-1 final. "It's been an amazing experience and I've really enjoyed being back because I really haven't paddled here this year."
With an exuberant crowd urging on his every stroke, the 25-year-old Czech kayaker was 1.48 seconds ahead at the midway split in the K-1 final. However, Hradilek made a costly mistake missing Gate 15 (pictured below), and finished 10th.
"I think I did a pretty good job the whole run apart from that one gate," said Hradilek, who won his first major international competition on the Prague course in 2007. "It just happened. I feel sorry not for me, but for all these people who came out to support me so amazingly."
World Cup point leader Etienne Daille of France captured his third victory of the season navigating the 22-gate, 260-meter course in 89.72 seconds, 1.18 faster than runner-up Mateusz Polaczyk of Poland.
One of the surprise performances of the day came from 18-year-old Michal Smolen (shown below). The Charlotte, N.C., resident, who hopes to obtain his U.S. citizenship before the end of the year, clocked the second fastest run of the semifinal just 0.34 behind Boris Neveu of France.
Taking to the rapids in his first-ever World Cup final, Smolen incurred a two-second penalty after touching Gate Six and then lost his rhythm on the latter part of the course.
"I was just getting ready to jump over a hole when I leaned and the water pushed me down," Smolen said about the later mishap. "It took time to get back up to the upstream gate and it cost me a few seconds."
Ranked 93rd entering the weekend's competition, the up-and-coming young paddler finished an impressive ninth.
"I'm not happy with the final, but I'm happy I got to race here and get to the final," said Smolen, who was runner-up to veteran Scott Parsons at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Slovenian Benjamin Savsek dominated the men's C-1 category, winning the event by 2.38 seconds.
British Olympic doubles silver medalist David Florence finished 18th in the C-1 semifinal, failing to advance to the final.
"It wasn't a great run, it wasn't a bad run, but I had a touch early on and it was enough to push me out," said Florence, who delighted the home crowd in London three weeks ago, paddling to silver along with partner Richard Hounslow. "It's just fine margins in the sport and today I was on the wrong side of it."
Hradilek will make an appearance at the upcoming week's Devil Extreme Race in Lipno, Czech Republic (stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com for more info), but will not compete opting to race in the ICF World Cup finale next weekend in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Also on his schedule are early October’s Sickline Championship in Austria and early November’s AWP Whitewater World Series final at the Green River Narrows race in North Carolina — what will be his first competitive appearance in the United States.