World champion Ed McKeever confident over 2012 place

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter

Sprint canoeing world champion Ed McKeever expects to have no trouble qualifying for London 2012 despite lacking a guaranteed host-nation place.

Bradford-on-Avon's McKeever, 27, holds the 200m single kayak world title and begins his 2011 season this weekend.

"Finishing in the top eight at this year's Worlds qualifies you for the Olympics," McKeever told BBC Sport.

"If I defend my title or narrowly miss it, Olympic qualification should still be quite straightforward."

This year's World Championships take place in Hungary in August, but the first major races of 2011 will be held at the opening World Cup event in Poznan from 6-8 May.

McKeever - whose world title came in Poland last year - is again in the K1 200m event, with Liam Heath and Jon Schofield in the K2 (two-man kayak) over the same distance.

The 200m events are new for the 2012 Olympic Games, replacing events over the intermediate 500m distance, with the aim of adding excitement for spectators.

Olympic champion Tim Brabants joins McKeever in the squad for the first World Cup of the season, having won a silver medal in the K1 1000m race at last year's World Championships.

Brabants won gold over 1000m at Beijing 2008, plus bronze over 500m.

He then took 18 months away from the sport after the Games to focus on his medical career, returning in early 2010, and has recently joined the four-man K4 1000m squad, while continuing in the single.

"The K4 team has had a bit of a shake-up with Tim put into it, which should - in theory - strengthen it," said McKeever.

"Tim's also racing his K1 and the move could help that in terms of his training. He does a lot of work on his own and being with a few more people regularly should help to push him on a bit more."

McKeever himself expects to mount a strong defence of his world title this year, having already equalled his fastest time from 2010 over the sprint course at Eton Dorney, the 2012 Olympic venue.

"That's what I was looking to do early on, so we'll see how I progress after that," he said.

"You can do time trials and everything in training but it's not the same as getting out there and racing, seeing how you fare at the event."

McKeever's rivals in the K1 200m event are led by Germany's Ronald Rauhe, a gold medallist over 500m at the Athens 2004 Games who took silver behind the Briton at last year's Worlds.

Though McKeever is not guaranteed a place at the 2012 Games in his event, and must earn it himself, three British boats do have the luxury of automatic host-nation qualification.

They are Brabants' men's K1 1000m class, world bronze medallist Rachel Cawthorn's women's K1 500m, and the men's C1 (one-paddle canoe single) 1000m - a class in which Britain, oddly, is not currently represented at world level.

Even if McKeever wins Olympic qualification in his class, it earns a place for Britain and not McKeever himself. He must then wait to be selected to take up that place on Britain's behalf.

Cawthorn is not taking part in the opening World Cup as the British women's team have opted for a different approach to the season and will not compete until a later stage.