Schinias, Greece As one legendary Canadian kayaker came up short in her final bid for Olympic gold, a new Canadian star announced his arrival on the world stage with a victory at the sport's highest level.
Adam van Koeverden won Olympic gold in the K-1 500 metres Saturday, a day after taking the bronze in the K-1 1,000 event. Veteran Caroline Brunet was hoping to finally capture the gold that had eluded her throughout her career, but settled for bronze in the women's K-1 500.
Van Koeverden was surprised after the win, since the 500 is not his specialty.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "I just went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror and didn't recognize myself for a second. It was like, 'you just did something pretty incredible."'
At the race's halfway point, the 22-year-old from Oakville, Ont., was just behind silver medal winner Nathan Baggeley. But the Canadian turned it on from there, finishing in one minute, 37.919 seconds, over a half-second faster than the two-time world champ from Australia. Ian Wynne of Britain won the bronze.
"I didn't go in thinking 'I'm winning this, you know,"' Van Koeverden said. "You go into every race thinking there's a possibility of winning, otherwise you shouldn't line up. But honestly, I was just really relaxed today.
"I was very pleased with my race yesterday, slept well last night, got up this morning and thought, 'I've got nothing to lose. I'm just going to go for it."'
Van Koeverden was remarkably calm afterwards. He was all smiles and appeared rather confident, as though it was only a matter of time before a gold medal would hang around his neck.
"I remember lining up thinking 'You're not done here, you can do better than a bronze,"' he said. "I'm really pleased that I put it together today."
Van Koeverden thrust his arm in the air after he crossed the line. After being presented with his wreath and medal, he raised both arms in the air and turned to salute the Canadian fans that were cheering him on in the stands across the water.
"These moments are really fleeting," he said. "For the few seconds you get to stand on an Olympic podium, you've got to absorb it ... I stood up there today, being able to look down on both sides for the first time ... I've never won a big race like this before. I just savoured it."
Van Koeverden won silver in the K-1 1,000 at the 2003 world championships. He also has two World Cup medals a silver and a gold and a bronze from an international regatta in Duisburg.
On Saturday, he felt like he was in control from start to finish.
"It was like between 116 and 120 perfect strokes," he said. "I didn't miss one. They all went in perfect and moved my boat. At no point during the race was I thinking I'm too tired to continue. Yesterday, I was toast in the last 150 metres.
"Just pure adrenaline today. I just didn't slow down."
For Brunet, a 35-year-old from Lac-Beauport, Que., she knew this was her last shot.
She previously had said that her fifth Olympics would be her last. With two Olympic silver medals, 10 world championship medals and several World Cup wins, she wanted to cap it with a gold medal.
"It was probably the worst start ever," she said. "Actually it was no start, that's how bad my start was. I normally start on the left and I had to start on the right side. I never do that."
Brunet, who has battled hip, neck and back problems throughout her career, was worried about the wind, which she said was so loud it woke her up in the middle of the night.
"I was thinking that the race (would) be postponed or delayed," she said. "I gave it my all at the end of the race to finish third. I'm happy with the bronze medal."
Natasa Janics of Hungary won gold in one minute 47.741 seconds. Josefa Idem of Italy took the silver in 1:49.729 and Brunet was third in 1:50.601.
Janics' win delighted a large contingent of festive drum-beating Hungarian spectators on a hot, sunny but fairly windy morning at the Olympic Rowing/Canoeing Centre. A few Canadian flags could also be seen throughout the crowd.
Brunet returned to the water about an hour later, finishing seventh in the K-2 500 with Mylanie Barre, also of Lac-Beauport. Janics picked up her second gold of the day, this time with Katalin Kovacs in 1:38.101.
Canada qualified 10 entries in the canoe-kayaking finals for the first time since the boycotted 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Canada had six boats in the final at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Halifax's Richard Dalton was sixth in the C-1 500 final won by Andreas Dittmer of Germany in 1:46.383. The Buday brothers from Mississauga, Ont., Tamas and Attila finished eighth in a deep men's C-2 500-metre final. China finished in 1:40.278 to narrowly beat Cuba for its first ever flatwater Olympic gold medal.
"Eighth place sounds pretty bad, we're not happy with that," Attila said afterwards. "The consolation is we're less than a second away from the winners. Most of the time if you're that close, it can give you a medal."