World champion Joe Clarke knows from experience that he could spill some blood as he goes for gold in the new Olympic discipline of kayak cross at the Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium in August.

Asked to explain how physical the event can get after a training session at the British team base in Waltham Abbey, Clarke pulls out his phone and plays a video.

It shows him during a practice run in Australia earlier this year taking a blow to the face from the sharp end of another kayak, resulting in blood streaming down his wet face.

"It was a big knock, but that's what can happen," Clarke, three-time world champion in kayak cross, previously known as extreme slalom, told Reuters. "I got a boat to the head. They glued it back together and I was out for five days."

Thankfully, Clarke now has fully recovered and, after being surprisingly left off the team for the Tokyo Games despite being the reigning Olympic K1 champion, he is energized by the chance to showcase an event he thinks will warrant compulsive viewing.

"It's the head to head element that gets people on the edge of their seats," Clarke says. "The feedback is instant, first across the line. You see people have a terrible start but go from fourth to first in an instant. Or first to fourth."

Traditional canoe slalom events such as K1 are against the clock, with paddlers negotiating a course of gates in the churning water as quickly as possible without accruing time penalties — a format Clarke admits can be boring.

Kayak cross starts with timed solo runs but then gets really wild. From then on, paddlers go head-to-head in knockout heats in which four boats launch from a steep ramp, pick their way down the course and perform an Eskimo roll before crossing the line.

It is fast and furious with contact almost inevitable, and Clarke says a cool head is required.

"If someone gives you a big knock off the start you can't let the red mist come down and go after them," he said. "Your decisions have to be really in the moment. Make the wrong call and you'll pay for it. I go into races with a Plan A, B, C, D and E. Throw away the rule book. Those decisions can win you medals."

At the U.S. Olympic Canoe Trials in April, 20-year-old Evy Leibfarth qualified for the event, becoming the only American to compete in the women's kayak cross race. Leibfarth made her Olympic debut in Tokyo, where she finished 18th in canoe slalom and 12th in kayak slalom. She will also compete in the canoe slalom event in Paris.

Extreme Sport

Kayak cross is the latest extreme sport added to the program by the International Olympic Committee along with others like BMX racing and freestyle and skate boarding.

"A canoe slalom final usually takes maybe half an hour or 40 minutes from start to finish, and unless you are really invested in that it's pretty boring," he said. "We've got the attention span of goldfish nowadays, so the fact that kayak cross races are over in 45 seconds and it's first over the line means people will hopefully be sitting on the edge of their sofas."

While the 31-year-old Clarke says his first love remains the technical and traditional K1, the addition of kayak cross has given him a new lease on life, and he is even planning to extend his career to compete in Los Angeles in 2028.

"It's exciting to have it as a medal event," he said. "Everyone has jumped at it and its gone through a whirlwind since I became world champion for the first time in 2021."

While it can be rough, Clarke believes the secret to his success is fast starts and staying out of trouble.

"There's only so much you can control but you make your own luck," he said. "My biggest strength is getting out in front, getting off the ramp super quick. The more you get into that hustle and bustle, that's when it can become a lottery."

Clarke will arrive in Paris as world champion in both of his events and knows he will be seen as the man to beat.

"I know they will be coming for me, but I've been there and done it before. The pressure is mainly from myself."

NBC Olympics contributed to this reporting.