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Canadian kayaker wins Olympic bronze

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Schinias, Greece — There are limits to friendship.

Norway's kayak king, Eirik Larsen, shared many things with his Canadian friend Adam van Koeverden over the past two years, including the Olympic medals podium after the 1,000-metre race yesterday.

He's shared his training camp. He's shared his cramped Oslo apartment. But he wasn't going to share enough secrets for van Koeverden to beat him for the gold medal. Larsen captured the K1-1,000 metres yesterday, overtaking the hard-driving Canadian in the second half of the intense battle on the smooth waters of the Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre course. Van Koeverden hung on for the bronze behind Larsen and New Zealander Ben Fouhy.

It was the first of 10 canoe and kayak finals for Canada over two days. Van Koeverden will be back on the water today, featured in the K1-500 metres, while veteran Caroline Brunet has finals in the K1-500 and in tandem with Mylanie Barre in the K2-500.

Van Koeverden, 22, and Larsen, 28, know each other well. Larsen, an icon in the sport with two world championships and nine World Cup titles in the last Olympic cycle, welcomed the Canadian into the one-bedroom lodgings he has with his girlfriend in Oslo when van Koeverden went to train in Norway for five weeks last summer and couldn't afford hotel rates.

Then, when the Norwegians went to Florida for pre-Olympic training this year, van Koeverden, of Oakville, Ont., showed up again, aiming to improve his performance by testing his speed against better paddlers than he could find close to home. But with the Games on the horizon, Larsen had to put the brakes on hospitality. He was furnishing van Koeverden with the ammunition to shoot down his own Olympic dream.

"I have a good relationship with him," Larsen said. "He's a friend and he trained with us and he became very good. He took a big step forward and beat me in 2003.

"In Florida, I chose not to train with him much because he was so good, and, of course, I was afraid of him today. I took the decision not to train with him, but I told Adam it was my coach, Orjan Madsen."

Whatever van Koeverden learned among the Norwegians before being shown the door, his game plan was his own, the same strategy he has had since he was 17, he said. He dug in hard from the start and had open water between his kayak and the field by 200 metres. He held on for third place after Larsen edged past in mid-course and Fouhy caught him with just more than 100 metres left.

"It was a brave race," van Koeverden said of the all-out effort that left him labouring over the final 100 metres. It was his typical approach to a race. "I've never been one to come back. I get ahead, and if everything is on my side, I hold on.

"I wish I had a little bit more energy to give at the end, but that's the way it goes when you go out like that."

Van Koeverden was a world silver medalist in 2003 and collected three World Cup medals this year. Canada's previous best in the Olympic K1-1,000 was eighth, by Renn Crichlow in 1992 in Barcelona.

Stephen Giles of Lake Echo, N.S., finished fifth in the C1 1,000-metre canoe final in his final Olympic race. A bronze medalist four years ago in Sydney, the 32-year-old paddler challenged at the 750-metre mark but fell back. A 15-year member of the national team, Giles was competing in his fourth Olympics.

"I'm pretty emotional right now. But it's been a good week, it's been a good 12 years," he said of his Olympic experience. "I'm happy."

David Cal of Spain, 21, won the race, beating defending champion Andreas Dittmer of Germany.

Also yesterday, Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S., Carrie Lightbound of Mississauga, Kamini Jain of Calgary and Jillian D'Alessio of Middle Sackville, N.S., finished eighth in the K4-500 final.Richard Dalton of Halifax and Michael Scarola of Waverley, N.S., finished sixth in the C2-1,000 canoe final.

And Steven Jorens of Aurora, Ont., Richard Dober of Trois-Rivičes, Ryan Cuthbert of Carleton Place, Ont., and Andrew Willows of Gananoque, Ont., finished ninth in the K4-1,000 final.

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