Fri, September 20, 2013

Adam van Koeverden has Canada eyeing Olympic kayak gold

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Canada's Adam van Koeverden reacts after competing in the men's kayak single (K1) 1000m semifinal at the Eton Dorney during the London 2012 Olympic Games Monday. (REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)


Every time he scrunches his powerful body into a kayak, Adam van Koeverden wants to believe he’s ready to go fast.

He trains both his body and his mind to be that way and the Canadian paddler is also resolute in forcing himself to look forward rather than in his wake.

It’s quite understandble, then, that the subject of struggles four years ago is mostly off-limits with the 30-year-old Oakville, Ont. native because from his perspective there’s no point in rehashing the past, good or bad.

But after a dominating pair of races in the men’s 1,000M kayak event Monday, van Koeverden’s coach declared what appeared pretty clear on the water here: Canada’s brightest remaining gold-medal hope is as focused as he’s ever been.

“This feels a lot more like Athens,” Scott Oldershaw, van Koeverden’s long-time coach at the Burlington Canoe Club, said after witnessing an impressive start by the three-time Olympic medallist. “He’s relaxed and he’s in a better frame of mind.”

That would be the Athens gold and bronze medallist and better than Beijing, where van Koeverden won a silver medal in the men’s 500M, a race no longer on the Olympic menu, but by his standards bombed in the 1,000, finishing eighth.

Regarding the latter race, van Koeverden candidly admitted that he succumbed to pressure, a rarity in a career that has had so much success both in Olympic and world championship competition.

So what’s the difference four years later? Experience is an obvious teacher, but Oldershaw believes there was too much crowding for van Koeverden’s attention in China, a confluence of factors that led to expectation overload.

“In Beijing, a number of things led to a little more stress,” Oldershaw said. “Defending (the title he won in Athens) is always an issue. (Being Canada’s) flag bearer, a lot of things. The mental state going in this time is much better.”

The physical state is pretty impressive as well, as van Koeverden showed in each of his races as the canoe-kayak flatwater action got under way.

In the first, the reigning world champion in the event was so far ahead of the field that he eased up well before the finish, conserving energy for the semifinal that was to be raced 90 minutes later.

In the second, he churned through the Eton-Dorney water with that familiar backwards ball cap and sunglasses he usually wears in races, at least a boat length in front of the rest of the field. The victory was so impressive that Britain’s legal bookmakers quickly made him the even-money favourite to win the gold Wednesday, down from the 5-2 odds he had before Monday’s races.

“It doesn’t matter,” van Koeverden said when asked if he delivered a message to the rest of the competition. “These guys don’t respect that. It’s a good job, but the race is on Wednesday.

“I felt fast and I felt comfortable.”

And the nerves? Yes they were there again but in a good way.

“It’s the Olympics, you have to freak out a little bit,” van Koeverden said. “I didn’t sleep well last night, but nerves are good. Pressure is a luxury and this has got to fuel me somehow.”

And this time — you get the feeling — it won’t bring him down.

ADAM LIKE USAIN?

After an easy win in his elimination heat Monday, it was suggested Adam van Koeverden had a little Usain Bolt in him.

Like the Jamaican sprinter is known to do, the Canadian paddler shut it down for the final 100 metres or so, preserving his strength for the semifinal to be raced some 90 minutes later.

“He only takes 41 steps (in a 100-metre race) and I take a hundred strokes a minute for three and a half minutes,” van Koeverden said, chuckling at the experience. “I was just conserving some strength for the semi.”

The strategy made sense for the Canadian as he adapted to the new format at these Olympics. In the past, the paddlers raced three days — preliminary heat, semi-final then final.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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