By Megan Armitage, at Lee Valley White Water Centre
Britain's Joe Clarke catapulted himself back on top of the world with a dazzling K1 victory at the Canoe Slalom World Championships.
The 30-year-old claimed his first major title in the event since the 2016 Olympic Games with a dominant run at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, with the Czech Republic's Jiri Prskavec claiming silver and Morocco's Mathis Soudi clinching the bronze.
Having missed out on selection for the Tokyo 2020 Games, Clarke stunned on the water to lay down a cool 91.32 seconds for his long-awaited victory, whilst sealing an Olympic quota spot for Team GB in the process.
And with his wife Annabel and newborn Hugo able to watch on from the sidelines, it was nothing short of a dream ending for Clarke.
"This has been such a long time coming,” he said. "I’ve been in a lot of world finals and had a lot of penalties and if you think about the disappointment of missing out on Tokyo as well.
Clarke claims magnificent maiden world K1 title after fantastic final run 🥇🏆
Joe Clarke produced a performance for the ages as he claimed global gold in the individual men’s K1 for the first time in his illustrious career 🤩
Read more 👇👇https://t.co/6nw6lKL5xt pic.twitter.com/bzSvWxhSND
— British Canoeing (@BritishCanoeing) September 23, 2023
“This was my time for redemption from the world champs here eight years ago and I’ve done exactly that. I’ve put those dragons to bed in front of a home crowd.
"It doesn’t get much better than this, it’s a fairy-tale ending in the K1 for me."
Clarke set a dominant benchmark in the semi-finals earlier in the day with a picture-perfect run of 90.96 seconds leaving jaws on the floor.
"My semi-final run was so good I was really trying not to evaluate in my head this time round," he added.
“But I kept doing it, thinking 'that was slightly better' or 'that was slightly worse' but I knew I would be thereabouts."
Clarke is now set to defend his kayak cross title on the final day of competition, with a glorious threepeat on his mind in the newest Olympic event.
And with less than a year until Paris 2024, the title of world champion is resting nicely on his head as he aims to shake off the remnants of Tokyo 2020 disappointment.
"This isn't even the end of the competition for me," he said.
"We go again in the kayak cross and as double world champ, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to win that again too.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in the past year with a new coach and now I’m home world champion in this event so bring on Paris!”
Clarke was joined in the final by fellow Brit Jonny Dickson, 22, who finished ninth at his first-ever senior World Championships.
Franklin reclaims World Championship title at Lee Valley as Woods soars to superb silver 🥇🥈🇬🇧
Mallory Franklin & Kimberley Woods claimed a sensational British medal one-two on day 4 of the 2023 Canoe Slalom World Championships
— British Canoeing (@BritishCanoeing) September 22, 2023
Dickson was made to sweat in his semi-final, with his inclusion in the top 10 hinging on the very last run of the morning, but it was a jubilant moment as the young paddler made his first final on debut.
"I knew I had done a solid run in the semi-final, but I didn't think it was going to be enough," he said.
"Every emotion possible was going through my head waiting to see if I'd made it, the paddlers I was expecting to put down a good run were the ones that weren't which really shows you what can happen.
"I wanted to put down the best run I could, and I think there was a lot of really good paddling there and kept it alive.
"It might not have been enough for a medal but a spot in the final is good enough for me at the minute."