Mon, September 23, 2013

Van Koeverden still has the elbow grease

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Adam Van Koeverden has served notice he is ready to challenge for the podium yet again in London. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters/Files)

He is 30 years old now, but don't ask Adam van Koeverden whether he's in the prime of his career.

About to become a three-time Olympian, the powerful paddler from Oakville, Ont., believes he is in his prime every time he is on the water. With a win at a World Cup event in Moscow in his final prep for London 2012, the decorated kayaker has served notice he is ready to challenge for the podium yet again.

Other than having "old elbows" -- a recent diagnosis from a doctor at a pre-Olympics checkup -- van Koeverden says he is as fit as he was at the 2004 Olympics in Athens when he won a gold medal in the K-1 500 metres and bronze in the K-1 1,000 metres.

"There's no prime age in the sport," van Koeverden said in an interview before returning to Europe for his final training session for the Games. "How old is Marty Brodeur? (The New Jersey Devils goalie is 40.)

"If you've paddled 80,000 kilometres you'd have old elbows, too. Any athlete has his aches and pains.

"We're not all gymnasts. You can compete until 40 if you want, age really doesn't matter."

It certainly doesn't for van Koeverden, who eight years ago was arguably the biggest Maple Leaf story in Greece. At his first Games, van Koeverden picked up a struggling Canadian team with his personal medal haul. The performance was so inspiring that he was Canada's flag-bearer as the team exited Athens and was chosen to carry it again when the team entered the spectacular Bird's Nest Stadium for the opening ceremony in Beijing in 2008.

His second Games yielded mixed results. The highlight was a silver medal in the 500 to complete his Olympic set, but in the 1,000 he finished in a stunning eighth place.

"The feeling of getting passed by six guys I never lose to was devastating," van Koeverden said after the race, an emotional press scrum in which he apologized to Canadians for his performance in China. "I wanted to disappear."

He didn't do that -- getting his redemption medal two days later -- and continued his stellar performances on the World Cup circuit, efforts that are generally off the radar in his homeland. As van Koeverden is quick to remind you -- and rightfully so -- he doesn't race just once every four years. It drives him crazy that the media and public pay attention to him and his sport only when the Olympic cycle thrusts him into the spotlight.

Throughout his career he has been at the top of his sport, particularly in his wheelhouse event, the men's 500 metres. A year after Beijing, however, the sport's governing body decided to remove the 500 from the Olympic menu and replace it with a 200-metre race. Rather than have two shots at a medal in London, van Koeverden will focus only on the 1,000 metres.

"I was frustrated (with the loss of the 500-metre event), but it happened in 2009 and I'm over it," said van Koeverden, who won gold in May at his final pre-Olympic tuneup In Moscow. "It's not something I can control and can be focusing on. I was frustrated to find out my favourite distance wasn't going to be in the Olympics, but it made me refocus on something different.

"I've got a job to do and that's to paddle for three and a half minutes at my best in London."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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