HE MAY be regarded as a prospect for the Tokyo Olympics, but Tasmanian Daniel Watkins isn’t giving up on Rio de Janeiro yet.
At 20, the Hobart paddler regularly records some of the fastest competition runs but often picks up regular gate touches.
Australian canoeing coaches believe if he can clean up his runs and keep up his pace he will be right in the picture for this year’s Games.
Watkins is among the Australian paddlers bidding for Olympic K1 selection at the Australian Open at Penrith Whitewater Stadium from February 5 to 7.
Lucien Delfour, Jaxon Merritt and Warwick Draper are expected to lead the charge in the first of two selection events, with the Oceania championships to follow from February 19 to 21.
Delfour, 27, heads into the event as the local favourite after a consistent 2015 season saw him finish the year at number three in the K1 world rankings.
The reigning Australian Open champion produced three top-10 finishes in the ICF World Cup series, winning bronze medals in Spain and France to finish the series second in the overall standings.
Reigning world champion Jiri Prskavec, of the Czech Republic, German duo Sebastian Schubert and Hannes Aigner, Frenchman Mathieu Biazizzo and Slovenian Peter Kauzer join Delfour as top-10 world ranked athletes at the event.
American Michal Smolen and Michael Dawson, of New Zealand, have achieved success at the venue before while London Olympic champion Danielle Molmenti, of Italy, rounds out a truly world class field.
But all eyes will be on which Australian athlete can produce the best performance under pressure with five athletes set to challenge Delfour for a place in Rio.
Victorian Merritt has demonstrated that he can produce a fast run under pressure down the Sydney Olympic course after taking out the Oceania title in 2014.
His 29th place finish at the world championships in London last year saw him secure the Olympic quota and at 24 Merritt is coming into the prime of his career.
At 39, Draper is hoping to become the first Australian in canoe slalom to race at four Olympic Games.
Rounding out the contenders are Western Australian Ben Pope and Victorian brothers Alistair and Tim Anderson.
Pope is arguably the form athlete after winning the Australian Slalom Championship in Tasmania last month.
The men’s K1 qualification runs will begin on Friday. The semi-final and finals are on Sunday.