Mon, September 23, 2013

Van Koeverden forgets past, focuses on future

By STEVE KEATING, REUTERS


Adam Van Koeverden heads to London participating in just one event but has high expectations on his shoulders. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters/Files)

With the London Olympics beckoning, Adam van Koeverden is all business. The Canadian kayaker takes his sport seriously and already has his game face on.

With an Olympic resume that already includes a complete set of medals, gold (K-1 500 metre) and bronze (K-1 1,000m) from the 2004 Athens Summer Games and a silver (K-1 1,000) in Beijing, van Koeverden heads to London with just one chance but plenty of expectations to add to his collection.

For the past two Summer Games, the muscular kayaker, who looks as if he was chiseled out of granite, has been the face of his country's Olympic effort, proudly leading the team into a sweltering Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing after carrying the Maple Leaf at the closing ceremonies in Athens four years earlier.

He has also borne the expectations of a nation, a sometimes-heavy burden that has not always rested easily on his massive shoulders.

Pegged as Canada's best bet for gold in Beijing, van Koeverden failed to win a medal in the K-1 1,000 finishing a well-beaten eighth.

Humbled by his defeat, he later apologized to the entire country but has now consigned the experience to history.

"That's redundant. I had my ups and downs in Beijing but I also won a silver medal (K-1 500) which is something people like to forget when they talk about my disappointing results in Beijing," he told Reuters.

"There were lots of expectations on me and I had a lot of pressure on myself. I don't look back four years. I'm not looking back to see what I did wrong when I was 26.

"I am finished answering questions about Beijing because it was four years ago."

After winning two medals in Athens, greater things were expected of van Koeverden in Beijing where the form book suggested he was the paddler to beat.

He came into the Games undefeated in 2007, world champion in the K-1 500 and silver medalist in the 1,000, his meticulous preparation ready to pay off in more Olympic gold until the final when the field blew past him as if he had dropped anchor.

Since then van Koeverden has logged close to 20,000 kilometres in training and competed in dozens of races insisting there is nothing to be taken from the experience in Beijing that will help him in London, where he will contest only one event the K-1 1,000 with the 500 dropped from the Olympic program.

"Every athlete is different and I'm a different athlete than I was four years ago and I'll be a different athlete, if I still am an athlete, in four years from now," said van Koeverden.

"I've raced three world championships and 12 World Cups since then.

"I raced when I was 27, 28, 29 and now I'm 30 so no I'm not looking back four years, I'm looking back at my last World Cup to see what I need to iron out."

Kayaking may not fire up Canadian passions the same way hockey can or hold the special status of a national sport like lacrosse but it is woven into the country's fabric and history.

It was the voyageurs blazing a trail not on land but across the thousands of lakes that helped open up the New World and paddlers, be it rowing, canoeing or kayaking are Olympic events Canadians have come to expect medals in.

Van Koeverden embraces that spiritual connection retreating between events to his Fortress of Solitude, a small cabin without electricity or running water in Algonquin Park in northern Ontario where he reconnects with paddling's roots while putting himself through gladiatorial-type training sessions.

"I don't do yoga or go to church so I guess my spiritual moments are all in Algonquin Park," said van Koeverden. "It's a good opportunity to relax and still do my job and do it in an environment that is cleansing in a way.

"I was there on the weekend and paddled, just a nice refresher sort of a reminder why I love this sport so much."