If Adam van Koeverden’s kayak race were only 500 metres long, he would have won a second career Olympic gold. But it was a 1000-metre grind and he forfeited the lead in the last minute to the Norwegian paddling machine and good friend Eirik Veras Larsen.
True to his nature, the Canadian was gracious in defeat, if you can call silver a defeat.
“He’s a classy guy and I respect him so much and trust him implicitly,” van Koeverden said as he clutched his bouquet and paddle, his silver medal dangling from his neck. “If I had to lose to somebody, Eirik’s an okay guy to lose to.”
Van Koeverden professed himself happy with silver, but was obviously not delighted. “I’m not over the moon,” he said. “I was racing for gold.”
And he wouldn’t say whether he planned to retire from the sport after devoting his life to kayaking since his teenage years. But he hinted the game is not quite over. “I don’t feel I’m done battling, but I need some time away from it,” he said.
At 30, he should be nearing the end of his game. But Larsen, one of most decorated paddlers in history, is 36 and still obviously still going strong. He has won four Olympic medals and as many world and European championships. Larsen’s career endurance may just motivate van Koeverden to keep paddling.
In spite of the lack of golds, it was a good day for Canada on the Eton Dorney paddling lake. One of van Koeverden’s best friends, perhaps his very best friend, Mark Oldershaw, won a bronze medal in the 1000-metre canoe sprint less than half an hour after his own silver.
Three generations of Oldershaws have competed in the Olympics, starting with Mark’s grandfather, Bert Oldershaw in the 1948 London games. But Mark was the first to win a medal. “Mark, oh man I’m happy for him,” van Koeverden said, his eyes tearing up.
Minutes later, Mark Oldershaw made his way through the media gauntlet to give van Koeverden a hug and mighty slap on the back, the bonding of two medal-winning Olympians and buddies who share the same coach – Mark’s father Scott Oldershaw.
With his silver, van Koeverden became Canada’s most decorated Olympian in the kayak event, with four medals. He won gold in Athens in the 500-metre sprint, his best race, and bronze in the 1000-metre race. In the Beijing games four years later, he snatched gold in the 500-metre event, turning him into a Canadian sporting superstar, one who was determined to repeat that success in London.
Wednesday’s silver put the 30-year-old, from Oakville, Ont., one medal ahead of Quebec’s Caroline Brunet, who won two silver and a bronze over three Olympics – Atlanta, Sydney and Athens.
After Beijing, the 500-metre kayak sprint was eliminated from kayak competition and van Koeverden found himself competing with the true dangermen of the 1000-metre event – Larsen, Germany’s Max Hoff, who took bronze Wednesday, Denmark’s Rene Poulsen, who placed fourth, and Anders Gustafsson of Sweden, who came fifth.
Van Koeverden did what he almost always does: He surged out of the gates, his arms spinning like windmills.
He was in the lead for about the first 750 metres. Then the mighty Norwegian, with steely determination, closed the gap and kept powering ahead. With a time of 3:26.46, Larsen finished slightly more than half a second ahead of the Canadian boat. It was a tight race that thrilled the fans, who roared with delight.
Scott Oldershaw felt badly for van Koeverden’s in ability to seize gold, but was highly impressed by the Norwegian’s surge. “There’s some disappointment in not winning that one [but] Larsen had an awesome race, probably his since Athens. He attacked Adam early and it was a good strategy. It worked.”
Van Koeverden did no dwell on his second-place finish. At one point, he said how sorry he was for Simon Whitfield, who crashed out of the triathlon race during the cycling segment, in London.
The kayaker said he traced Whitfield’s name on his boat before Whitfield’s race, an apparent good luck gesture.
“I didn’t have a marker so I just wrote with my finger on my deck and thought, ‘This one’s for the Whitfield legacy,’” van Koeverden said. “He deserved more yesterday. I am certain he would have run with those guys.”