A record 36 nations competing in the extreme canoe slalom competition at the weekend's junior and U23 canoe slalom world championships underlined the fantastic growth in the sport across the globe.
As expected slalom powerhouses France and the Czech Republic once again took the lion's share of the gold medals, but the rest of the world is closing in fast, led by Italy, Slovenia and Great Britain, while the emergence of the United States and New Zealand shows the Europeans are facing a strong challenge.
More than 400 athletes from almost 50 countries competed in the ICF's showcase age group event, including competitors from Venezuela, Algeria, Macedonia and Nepal.
The ICF's Talent Identification Program (TIP) is the envy of the global sporting community, and the continued improvement and growth in numbers from countries like Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico, Morocco and Argentina shows the popularity of the sport all over the world.
Despite still being a new sport on the canoe slalom program, extreme canoe slalom once again showed it has a bright future as an international event. Four different nations won gold – interestingly France and the Czech Republic, who dominated the traditional events, where not among the gold medalists on Sunday.
Instead it was Brazil, USA, Great Britain and Russia who stood on top of the podium in an event some onlookers have described as dodgem' cars on water.
"After the Rio Olympics we introduced extreme canoe slalom onto our world cup program because athletes told us they wanted more competition and more chances to represent their countries," ICF canoe slalom technical committee chair, Jean-michel Prono, said.
"After initially just a handful of athletes and countries taking part, the number has grown incredibly as people realise what an exciting and challenging discipline it is.
"I have no doubt we will see a fantastic turn out for our extreme canoe slalom world championships in Prague in September. The passion shown by our best junior and U23 paddlers on Sunday shows it is very much a sport for the future."
France with seven went home with the most gold medals from the 2019 championships, but the Czech Republic proved to be the most consistent country across the board, scooping up six gold and 18 medals in total. By contrast France won 11 medals.
"Once again France and the Czech Republic have shown they have enormous depth in canoe slalom across all disciplines, but countries like Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Great Britain are quickly catching up," Prono said.
"But I think what was most pleasing for us as a sport was the emergence of countries which traditionally have not been as strong in slalom. The United States, New Zealand and Russia all had a very good championship.
"And then there are countries like Nepal, Algeria, Mexico and Latvia which are still very much finding their way in this sport, but showed the enormous growth potential of canoe slalom around the world."
The 2020 ICF junior and U23 canoe slalom world championships will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia.