By Tim Kelly
TOKYO (Reuters) -Slovakia's Matej Benus topped the men's Olympic canoe slalom heats at the sun-baked Kasai Slalom Centre on Sunday, with Australia's Jessica Fox finishing first in the women's kayak in water she described as the warmest she had every competed in.
"Every run especially in this weather, in this heat my heart rate soars, It's like paddling in bath water," Fox said after her second run.
"It's all about the ice baths, ice towels, as much ice as possible."
Fox, who picked up a bronze in the kayak slalom in Rio five years ago and a silver in London in 2012, is also aiming for gold in the canoe slalom, which women will compete in for the first time in Tokyo.
Benus said the water had left paddlers, who had to wrap ice-filled towels around their necks to cool down, exhausted.
"Everybody is so tired after 70 seconds, it's a little bit less dynamic," said Benus, who won silver five years ago.
Slovakia or France have claimed gold in the canoe slalom at every Olympics since the Atlanta Games in 1996.
Slovenia's Benjamin Savsek, the 2017 world champion, was lying in second place after the two heats.
Britain's Adam Burgess produced a strong second run down the man-made whitewater course to finish third in the standings.
"It's great to kick off my Olympic campaign in this way. I've been so nervous the last 24 hours or so," Burgess said in a statement released by the British Olympic team.
The paddlers competed with only a handful of people watching from the stands at the event where spectators have been barred from attending due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their cheers drowned out by the buzzing of cicadas in the surrounding seaside park next to Tokyo Bay.
"It is a little bit weird and it is a little bit sad," said Benus.
Germany's Ricarda Funk had the second-fastest time in the women's kayak. In addition to an iced towel, the 2018 European champion wore a jacket with pouches holding "cooling blocks."
"It lasts for 10 minutes," she said.
Rio silver-medallist Luuka Jones, who took up the sport after her family moved next door to a kayaking park in New Zealand, trailed in third.
Kazakhstan's Yekaterina Smirnova, Taiwan's Chu-han Chang, and Celia Jodar representing Morocco were eliminated with the slowest times. The women's kayak semi-final and final will be on Tuesday.
In the men's canoe slalom, Canada's Cameron Smedley, Senegal's Jean Pierre Bourhis and Russian Olympic Committee competitor Pavel Eigel, who retired with an injured shoulder after the first run, did not qualify for the semi-final and final on Monday.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly, editing by Pritha Sarkar)