June 23 (Reuters) - Five canoeists to watch out for at the Tokyo Olympics:
JESSICA FOX (AUSTRALIA)
Slalom canoeist Fox, 27, was born into the sport with a French mother, Myriam, a twice world champion who claimed a canoeing bronze medal in 1996 in Atlanta, and a British father Richard, who won five world titles.
Fox, who is coached by her mother, sits atop the world rankings both in Kayak and canoe slalom, which will be included for women in the Olympics for the first time in Tokyo.
Fox took a silver medal in the Kayak singles slalom in London in 2012 and a bronze at the same event in Rio de Janeiro four years later.
SAEID FAZIOULA (REFUGEE TEAM)
Born in Iran and now living in Germany, Fazioula, 28, will make his debut in Olympic canoeing in Tokyo as a member of the refugee team.
The German Canoe Association and German government backed Fazioula’s bid for inclusion in the refugee team, praising his efforts at integrating into German society.
The kayak sprinter arrived in Germany in 2015 and missed out on the 2016 games in Rio. According to the Infomigrants website, Fazioula, who competed for Iran, fled his home country after he was arrested and accused of converting to Christianity on his return from the World Championships in Milan, Italy where he had taken a photograph of himself outside the city’s Duomo Cathedral.
SERGEI TARNOVSCHI (MOLDOVA)
For Tarnovschi, 23, the one-year delay to Tokyo 2020 provided a chance for redemption because it meant he was able to serve out a four-year ban imposed after a positive drugs test at the Rio games and have enough time to qualify for the 1,000 metre canoe sprint in Tokyo.
Tarnovschi, who was stripped of his bronze medal in 2016, said his return to Olympic competition has not been welcomed by all his fellow athletes.
“Some of the athletes welcome me, some don’t like me. It’s a choice for everyone,” he said at a sprint meeting in Russia in May, where he beat the Russian paddler who was awarded the bronze he lost in Rio, Ilia Shtokalov.
DONG ZHANG (CHINA)
Kayaker Dong, 24, won a place at the Tokyo Games with victory in the 1,000 meter Kayak single sprint at the Olympic qualifier in Russia in May.
That victory secured China places in all the canoe sprint events scheduled in Tokyo as a growing number of countries challenge European nations that have dominated the sport for decades.
Zhang, who has competed in canoeing since he was 15, is seen as one of China’s best hopes of an individual medal in Olympic canoeing.
MAIALEN CHOURRAUT (SPAIN)
Tokyo 2020 will be the fourth consecutive Olympic Games for veteran paddler Chourraut, 38, who will defend her Kayak slalom title. In addition to the gold she won in Rio four years ago, she picked up Spain’s first canoe slalom medal in London in 2012, where she grabbed the bronze.
Trained by her husband Xabier Extaniz, who was also Spain national slalom coach, Chourraut says she pushes herself hard and, according to her International Canoe Federation profile trained when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter, who was born in 2013.
Chourraut has been training on France’s Reunion island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. (Reporting by Tim Kelly, editing by Ed Osmond)