The biggest team of South African canoeists to take part in the Olympic Games will begin the campaign in the slalom and sprint events confident of reaching the finals in a number of disciplines, with two genuine chances to win medals.Flatwater sprinters Shaun Rubenstein and Jen Hodson are both serious medal contenders, and have both wrapped up their Olympic preparations at their camp in Szolnok in the best shape of their careers and itching to start their challenge for Olympic glory. ?If I can get my peak and all other aspects involved in having a perfect race right, I believe I am good enough to win a medal,? said Rubenstein, who has been a regular feature in the A finals for both the 500m and 1000m K1 races at the World Cup regattas in the build-up to the Olympic games. ?My training has been going very well. We are starting to do a lot more training on the course to prepare our bodies for the intense racing that is coming up,? said Rubenstein, who has been training with fellow South Africans Ant Stott and Nic Burden, as well as fellow Olympians Australian Ken Wallace of Australia and Slovenia?s Jupancic Regent. Optimism in the team Jen Hodson is also optimistic about a strong challenge for a medal in the A final of the women?s 500m K1. ?Realistically there are six or seven girls who can all medal on the day, and I include myself as one of these,? said the Pietermaritzburg raised star who relocated to Gauteng to train under national coach nandor Almasi several years ago. ?After all these months it?s difficult to realise that we are days away from the opening ceremony,? said Hodson. ?I can definitely feel the big race is coming up, and the enormity of what we are about to experience is starting to feel real.? Hodson will also anchor the high flying women?s K4 that has rocketed from obscurity to being a genuine force in the tough and competitive world of international K4 racing. The K4 crew of Michele Eray, Carol Joyce, Nikki Mocke and Jen Hodson has made major strides, and will be looking to start the women?s K4 final in a strong position and is aiming for at least a top six finish. ?There will probably be about a second separating us all so it is all about getting it right on the day, at the right time!? said Nikki Mocke, the wife of Capetonian surf ski ace Dawid Mocke. ?Training has been going well, and the K4 is hitting some super-fast times,? said Plettenberg Bay based Eray, who will also partner Tukkies paddler Bridgitte Hartley in the 500m K2 races. This combination was only initiated in June, following the needle tussle between Hartley and Hodson for the right to race the blue ribbon women?s 500m K1 event, which was only decided at the final trial at the World Cup in Hungary which saw history being made as the two South African women raced into the top five places in the A final. ?Bridgitte (Hartley) and I have been working hard to become much quicker off the mark,? said Eray. ?It?s paying off and we are feeling a lot faster than before. We still have only paddled together very few times compared to other international pairs, but I am very positive about our combination.? Making history Making up the balance of the challenge from Team South Africa in the flatwater sprint events is teenager Calvin Mokoto, who is the first South African paddler to qualify a C1 canoe berth at the Olympic Games. The enthusiastic Wattville youngster has won plenty of admirers in his first international season, after being spotted and nurtured by German champion Andreas Dittmer several years ago. Three athletes will contest the slalom competition at the challenging new artificial white water course, all of them in canoes. It is the first time that South African paddlers have qualified a place at the Games in canoes, in which the paddlers kneel in the craft and use single bladed paddles. Cameron McIntosh, the Bethlehem based doctor who for years campaigned to qualify a K1 for the games, will partner Cyprian Ngidi in the C2 competition, while Siboniso ?Master? Cele will contest the C1 events. Cele has improved rapidly since making his international debut five years ago and is aiming to make the cut of the top twelve paddlers to secure a berth in the semi-finals. McIntosh, who must take much of the credit for doggedly driving the dreams of slalom paddlers and founding the Dihlabeng slalom canoe club outside Bethlehem that is the home of elite slalom paddling in South Africa, started the slalom careers of Cele and Ngidi while they were members of the Lembethe Canoe Club at Nagle Dam, deep in the Valley of a Thousand Hills. He is determined to take his C2 partnership with Ngidi to new heights on the tough heavy water of the Shunyi course, and has set a top ten finish in the heats, which will earn them a place in the semi finals, as their first goal. The trio has been training on the new course in Beijing, which is arguably the toughest man-made white water course in the world. He said that the intense heat and humidity has made training difficult. ?The Zulu?s are getting ?kathele? in this heat,? said McIntosh. ?I?m dosing them up on vitamins and liquids to combat the heat.? The slalom and flatwater events will be held at the new purpose built facility nestled in the forest park region of Shunyi, 40km to the north of the centre of Beijing. The slalom competition starts on Monday 11 August and ends on 14 August, while the flatwater racing gets under way on Monday 18 August and concludes on Saturday 23 August. All the canoeing events starts at 3:30pm Beijing time each day.