Fri, September 20, 2013

Adam van Koeverden wins silver medal

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Canada's Adam van Koeverden celebrates his silver medal during the Men's Kayak Single (K1) 1000m during the Olympic Summer Games in London on August 8, 2012. (Dave Abel/QMI AGENCY)


ETON-DORNEY, ENGLAND - The day that there is shame in an Olympic silver medal, Adam van Koeverden will tell you, is the day they should stop handing them out.

Still, the man who became Canada's most decorated Olympic paddler here Wednesday morning, looked and sounded like a man who let one get away.

The smile and appreciation for the silver medal around his neck were there, but just not as bright as it would have been if the colour was different.

The first words to his mother, the woman who took him to the Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville as a teenager, had a tinge of apology:

"It's the wrong colour," he told her.

As bold as the effort was on the water, a near wire-to-wire triumph that fell just short to his long-time friend and training partner, Eirik Larsen of Norway, van Koeverden's fourth career Olympic medal was not the one he wanted.

"For Adam, there's some disappointment not winning, that's what we came for," said his coach Scott Oldershaw, who ran the full range of emotions in about 15 minutes as his son Mark won bronze in the C1, 1,000M before van Koeverden's paddles were even dry. "Tomorrow morning a silver will be amazing and awesome. Right now there's still some disappointment at not winning that one.

"He went for it. He had a good race just not there the last 100 metres that he's had during the season."

For the longest time in the men's K1 1,000-metre final, van Koeverden looked like he had the world-class field where he wanted them. He stormed out to an early lead, the preferred racing style throughout his career, leading Larsen by over a second at the 250-metre split.

The boat was still moving with authority at 500 metres as well, but the gap was reduced to .87 secons and by the 750 mark the lead was .23 over Larsen and van Koeverden was in for the race of his life one that came up short by almost three quarters of a second.

"It's not a case of a screwed up race plan," van Koeverden said. "This is one guy in the world being better than me."

Not by much and not by surprise, either. In the close-knit world of canoe-kayak, competitors are often training partners and van Koeverden knew exactly what he was in for when the two locked horns.

"Eirik and I have done probably 1,000 workouts together -- I've been training with him for 14 years and I bet we are 50-50 in training sessions," van Koeverden said. "This is bittersweet. We train to win, but other guys in the world do too."

Too often the term silver lining is an overused cliche, a rationalization for being second best. On Wednesday, it was far from a loser's lament for van Koeverden, however.

He got to see Oldershaw, his pal from Burloak and their world travels win bronze while the silver gave him four Olympic medals, the most of any Canadian athlete in his sport. And the finish was certainly a redemptive strike from his eighth-place finish in the same event four years ago in Beijing.

Those Games were a mess for van Koeverden, who arrived in China over-the-top touted as Canada's great golden hope, a two-time medallist from Athens who was going to lead his country, not just into the stadium as flag bearer, but to the top of the podium. Twice.

"I was putting so much pressure on myself and people were counting my two medals before I showed up and I was resentful of that," van Koeverden said. "Everybody's like 'he's going to win two gold medals.' It's a ridiculous thing to say.

"This is really hard. It's hard to win Olympic silver. It's hard to squeeze an Olympic bronze."

It's hard to accept silver when everything in you, every stroke in the winter, spring and fall is done with golden dreams. But, besides being the best at what he does, van Koeverden is also four years older and perhaps better equipped to handle second best.

"Everybody grows, everyone grows up," van Koeverden said. "I'm the same guy I was in 2004, I still want to win just as bad. I just have a little more experience and and perspective on the concept of winning and you can't win every time."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: longleysunsport