Charlie Smith was lost for words after moving a step closer towards this summer’s Olympics with an unexpected victory at the sprint and paracanoe national selection event in Nottingham.
The Leighton Buzzard youngster trumped a strong field including Tom Lusty in the men’s K1 1000m with a time of 3:42.77, to secure a spot at May’s ICF European selection event in Szeged, Hungary, where a place at the Games will be on the line.
First place was as much of a surprise to Smith as anyone, who admitted a top-three finish was his main target at his first outing on the water for 18 months.
And having earned himself a shot at sealing an Olympic debut in merely a matter of months, Smith - who finished seventh in the K2 1000m at the 2019 U23 World Championships - explained he needed some time to let his latest achievement sink in.
“I haven’t quite got to grips with it all yet,” he said. “Tokyo wasn’t even something I was considering coming into this regatta, but it certainly is now.
“I never expected to win today, but I came through the heat well and I backed that up in the final. I was up against some really strong guys but I finished off strongly in the last 100m, and I was over the moon to get over the line.
“This result gives me a lot of excitement and hope going into the rest of the season. I’m just pleased to have got the chance to go over to Hungary, and I’ll need to sit down with my coach and set some realistic goals for over there.”
While playing down his hopes of making the plane to Japan Smith believes any chance he has was enhanced by the 12-month postponement of the Games, which came in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
And regardless of how he fares in Szeged, and potentially at the subsequent ICF global qualifying event in Barnaul, Russia, he is confident the improvements he’s made over the last year-and-a-half will stand him in good stead going forward.
He added: “Since Covid-19 hit I’ve really gone about finding my own path and getting the best out of myself. I’ve got a lot of good work done, and thankfully that’s shown today.
“It’s really promising, but I’ve just got to keep my head down, keep putting in the hard yards and hopefully I’ll continue to improve.”
British Canoeing is the national governing body for paddlesport in the UK