Fri, September 20, 2013

Adam van Koeverden, Mark Oldershaw share golden friendship

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Canadian canoeist Mark Oldershaw is all smiles after winning bronze in the men's canoe 100-metre final at the London Games Wednesday. But someone else may be even happier for him -- kayak silver medallist Adam van Koeverden, Oldershaw's longtime friend. (DAVE ABEL/QMI AGENCY)


LONDON - They met as kids down at the canoe club, the tall skinny 13-year-old from Oakville, Ont. and the short, stocky hockey-playing 12-year-old from Burlington and almost instantly, the two became friends. That was only 17 summers and five Olympic Games ago.

“I was kind of the prince of the canoe club and then he came down and butted me out of the way,” said Mark Oldershaw, wearing a bronze medal proudly around his neck that looked a lot like gold under the circumstances. “He was a foot taller than me at the time. He just got on the water and started training hard. Most of us were kids, splashing around and jumping in the water, like kids do.

“But as soon as he got to the club, he wanted to go fast. And he’s been going fast ever since.”

He has been a national figure for three Olympic Games and on Wednesday, Adam van Koeverden, with the newest addition to the medal haul, stood beside his old pal. He wearing silver, Oldershaw wearing bronze, with Mark’s father, Scott, both of their coaches, standing not far from both, in his own words, so proud, so happy for the family legacy in a sport most Canadians pay little attention to except for two days every four years.

Wednesday was one of those special Olympic days: warm, sunny, successful, with two more medals won for Canada, and with van Koeverden more “stoked” — his word — about Oldershaw’s bronze medal than he was about his own silver. But that’s van Koeverden, who hates losing.

On any day. At any time. At anything he pursues. Silver, to him, represents a race he didn’t win. That will hurt today, maybe tomorrow. In a few days, a few months, a few years, he will appreciate his fourth Olympic medal a little more.

But his pride came out when talking about his buddy, who is now two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, still a year younger, 29 to his 30, who has one medal now after personal health issues, a crushing defeat in Beijing four years ago and now the first Oldershaw — there have been four family members before him competing at the Games — to make it to the podium.

When van Koeverden was winning his gold medal in Athens in 2004, Oldershaw was home just recovering from hand surgery. The year before, a growth had been found on his hand. He spent a year not sleeping — the pain was that intense. But his chum van Koeverden wouldn’t let him go on without canoeing. He and Mark’s brother had built a paddle specifically for the injured hand, with a loop on the end that would wrap around his wrist rather than have it held by hand.

“He basically spent a year where he was in constant pain,” said his father. “The tumour was on a nerve in his hand and with the slightest movement he was in agony.”

Adam came home from Athens with gold and bronze around his neck and a new national profile. Mark wondered if he’d ever get to any Olympic Games.

That is an odd juxtaposition for the kids from the Burloak Canoe Club, just a paddle or two down the creek from Glen Abbey. Van Koeverden was the kayak champion. Oldershaw is the natural athlete, the AAA hockey player, in the most difficult pursuit in the sport, the 1,000-metre race for a single canoeist.

Van Koeverden carried the flag for Canada in Beijing and then proceeded to disappoint. His Olympics were startling for him and a real setback. Quietly, without any real notice, Oldershaw, in his first Games, didn’t make the finals of his C1 event. He was an Olympic afterthought. Different as they might have been, they shared the misery of Beijing together.

Now van Koeverden is first to celebrate Oldershaw’s medal — enamoured by an event he wants no part of.

“You look at them, they’re like ballerinas and linebackers in one body,” said van Koeverden. “They’re seriously unbelievable. Somebody tweeted that ‘C1 looks way harder than K1 (his sport).’ That’s because it is.”

The bronze medal for Oldershaw was a victory for himself, for family, for history, for Canada,

“This is bittersweet for both of us,” said van Koeverden. “We train to win. But oh man, I’m happy for him. This is one of those bronze medals that means almost as much as gold.”

And it will always mean so much for Mark Oldershaw, from Canada’s first family of canoeing.

“Everything has led up to this,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid. Every birthday, blowing out the candles, you thought of this. It was getting to the podium.

“I love being on the water. I love being outside. I love growing up at the Burloak Canoe Club. There’s no place like home.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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