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Nicholls eyes kayak breakthrough

6 August 2012

Bolstered by winning form on the windswept Eton Dorney course, kayaker Alana Nicholls is aiming to become Australian canoeing's first female Olympic champion this week.

No woman has done better than silver on either the flatwater or whitewater but Nicholls starts her two-pronged London canoe sprint campaign on Tuesday as a serious medal contender in the K1 500m.

The Perth paddler won the Games test event on Dorney Lake last year and returns to the venue following strong World Cup form which netted silver in Germany behind Hungarian world champion Danuta Kozak.

Kozak and German supermum Katrin Wagner are the favourites for the event, with Nicholls snapping at their heels.

The 26-year-old, who came out of early retirement in late 2010, is upbeat about her chances following a strong second season on the international circuit.

"I've come away feeling quite encouraged," she told AAP.

"It was a bit of a shock to the system last year whereas this year I have an expectation and level which I think I can reach."

Nicholls, who will also contest the K1 2000 on Friday, knows a good K1 500 start is essential in the heats as Eton Dorney's cross-wind conditions mean lane draws become significant for Thursday's final.

Former ironwoman champion Naomi Flood also makes her Olympic debut on Tuesday when she teams with Beijing bronze-medallist Lyndsie Fogarty in the K2 500.

But it is Australia's men's K4 1000 crew of Murray Stewart, David Smith, Jake Clear and Tate Smith who are seen as the best chance for canoe gold after taking silver in last year's world titles.

Brisbane schoolboys Jake Donaghey and Alex Haas, both 17, will become Australia's youngest ever Olympic paddlers when they combine in the C2 1000.

Jim Morton

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