Fri, September 20, 2013

Adam van Koeverden cool, calm, ready for Olympic gold

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


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

LONDON - Larry Cain’s first memory of Adam van Koeverden was of a 13-year-old kid with long hair and a pony tail who never wanted to get out of his kayak.

In the 17 years since van Koeverden showed up at the Burloak Canoe Club in his hometown of Oakville, Ont., Cain, a former Olympic champion himself, has seen plenty of the paddling sensation.

At various times, Cain been a mentor and a landlord to van Koeverden and one of the more impassioned observers of the power he’s able to generate from the seat of his kayak. In fact, other than his coach and training partners, Cain might be the closest observer of van Koeverden’s decorated career.

So on the eve of the 30-year-old’s bid for a fourth career Olympic medal — and truly Canada’s top hope for another gold here — Cain couldn’t contain his excitement, predicting we’re about to witness an explosive performance Wednesday in the K-1 1,000 men’s final.

“I’ve seen Adam enough that I can tell when he’s paddling well and I can tell when he is paddling amazing,” Cain said in an interview. “I’ve been so impressed with what I’ve seen from him on the water in Oakville this summer. His boat just pops out of the water the moment the paddle goes in. It stays that way and accelerates.

“It’s beautiful, the way he’s making his boat lift and move. It’s just amazing to watch.

“I don’t want to get ahead of things, but what we saw (in Monday’s dominating heat and semifinal wins) was something special. And the most exciting part is that he still has some of the formula in the bottle for the final.”

Cain is so impressed with van Koeverden’s demeanour here that it reminds him of eight years ago. At that time, the younger paddler was renting a room at the former Olympian’s Burlington, Ont. home. Every day he’d walk by Cain’s gold medal, admiring it but refusing to touch.

“He said he didn’t want to pick it up, he wanted his own,” Cain said Tuesday. “I remember one of the last things saying to him before he left for Athens and I feel the same way now — I have more confidence in him than any athlete I’ve ever had.

“I’ve known him for a long time and grown to expect the unexpected in good ways. But what I saw on Monday ...”

There’s still a race to be won, a 1,000-metre test against the best kayakers in the world and whether van Koeverden’s form is stout enough to result in a second career Olympic gold will be revealed on the waters here Wednesday while most of Canada is still asleep.

If the scintillating performances Monday were any indication, however, he might just be at the physical peak of his career — which says something if you’ve seen his rippled physique in action.

He’s long been worth watching on the water and listening to on land, thus becoming one of our most compelling Olympic athletes.

He’s a treat to watch in action and engaging when he speaks, often with supreme a confidence that is often misunderstood. He doesn’t provide stock answers if he doesn’t believe what he’s saying and he’ll leave the cliches to others.

On Monday, for example, a British reporter asked him if he felt he was ready to win an event that previously had eluded him.

“Personally I don’t feel like it has eluded me,” van Koeverden said politely. “I’m the world champion in the 1,000 and I’ve had a lot of great races in the 1,000. I don’t think it has eluded me at all.”

At times, the delivery has been more abrupt, but as Cain says, it’s part of his makeup, the product of a natural intelligence and borderline brashness. Quite frankly, for those who have spent enough time jostling through mind-numbing scrums in pro sports dressing rooms, the van Koeverden exchanges can be refreshing.

“That’s why he’s successful — that attitude,” his coach, Scott Oldershaw, said in an interview prior to the 2008 Beijing Games. “It’s something you see with a lot of athletes at that level.”

Might that attitude softened a little, especially internally, after the heartbreak of Beijing when he finished eighth in the 1,000-metre final before recovering for a silver in the 500? Those who know him say the 1,000 hit him hard, but ultimately may have helped lead to a more relaxed athlete for these Games.

“He’s had a lot of success over the past few years and he’s at a different place now,” Cain said. “He’s accomplished so much in his sport that there’s no pressure on him to do it again. When you are at that point in your career, you like to win because you like to paddle fast, but you don’t live in fear of what you want to do.

“It’s probably really liberating for him. He’s hungry and relaxed like he was in Athens and he’s at total peace with himself.

“He’s grown up and matured in eight years. In Beijing, all the expectations were baggage to him and I think he let all of that get him away from what it boils down to — sitting in a kayak with a clear mind and making the boat move fast.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: longleysunsport