Kayaker De Jonge takes bronze
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
Canada's Mark de Jonge competes in the men's kayak single (K1) 200m semifinal at the Eton Dorney during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 10, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
ETON-DORNEY, ENGLAND - For all athletes, there comes a time when the Olympic dream must die.
Maybe you're too old. Maybe you're not fast enough. Maybe it's time to get on with the rest of your life.
When Haligonian Mark de Jonge failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, that reality checkpoint had arrived.
The kayaker decided to finish off his degree and start a career after a gut-wrenching acknowledgement that maybe he was never going to be among the fastest in the world.
That all changed on a brilliant summer Saturday morning here at the Eton College Rowing Centre when the 28-year-old powered his way through 180 strokes a minute or so to win bronze in the men's K-1, 200-metre event.
Not only did it provide Canada with its 18th medal of the Games, matching the Beijing total from four years ago, it capped a remarkable comeback by de Jonge, who left competitive kayaking for almost three years.
"I'm just so happy to get on the podium," de Jonge said, barely taking his eye off the hefty bronze medallion resting perfectly on his chest. "It's just the highest level of competition you could imagine. I think my biggest fear was trying hard this year and finding out it wasn't worth it.
"It has been totally worth it, a great experience."
That it almost didn't happen made it all the more rewarding, uplifting and worthy of a province-wide celebration in his native Nova Scotia. De Jonge had given his life to paddling, relishing in the scene at the Maskwa Aquatic Club in Halifax, but never quite making the big splash on the international scene.
"Things weren't stacking up in my favour," de Jonge said of his decision to leave the sport back in '08. "I wanted to just focus on other things in life. It wasn't that I didn't like paddling -- it's that I had just tried so hard but didn't get enough out of it." That all changed when his sport went through an Olympic makeover. Gone from the menu was the 500 metres, once the domain of Adam van Koeverden -- and in was the 200 metres. As deflating as the decision to retire was, the comeback call was an easy one.
"I felt useful again," de Jonge said of the International Canoe Federation's decision to bring in the 200. "I was always racing 500 metres and 1,000 metres and I was able to do okay while doing school. But I felt like I was swimming upstream, really.
"I knew I had a future finally and made a plan from there and just executed."
He executed rather well on Saturday morning, getting the swift start required in the sprint distance. De Jonge calls it "opening up like a shaken pop can" and he's not far off. He wasn't going to catch home water favourite Ed McKeever, as the Brit led just about the entire way to claim gold in 36.246 seconds to de Jonge's 36.657. Saul Craviotto of Spain claimed the silver.
"I'm good at blasting off the line but not really holding it for more than 200 metres," de Jonge said. "Doing the 200, I'm just so much better suited to that. I was really just focussing on my start. I knew everything would fall into place if I did that." Everything in his life seems to be falling into place just fine as well. After graduating from Dalhousie University, he took a job with a consulting firm in Halifax that gave him a leave of absence to pursue the renewal of his Olympic dream.
With the bronze to go along with van Koeverden's single in the K-1 1,000 and Mark Oldershaw's bronze in the C-1 1,000, the paddlers closed the Eton Olympic meet with three medals. Combine it with silver medals won by the men's and women's eights rowing crews and the five medals make it the most productive venue for Canada.
The fifth one never would have happened though, if not for an Olympic dream too strong to bury.
"I was pretty satisfied with my life not paddling," de Jonge said. "It took a lot of soul searching (to return). But I made the right decision and I'm really happy that I did."