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Ryan Cochrane of Canada celebrates after coming first and winning the gold medal in the men's K2 kayak double 200m race at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara October 29, 2011. (DESMOND BOYLAN/REUTERS)
Ryan Cochrane of Canada celebrates after coming first and winning the gold medal in the men's K2 kayak double 200m race at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara October 29, 2011. (DESMOND BOYLAN/REUTERS)

Sean Gordon

Canadian paddlers put world on notice Add to ...

Sometimes you wake up and just know it’s going to be a good day.

That’s certainly how Halifax-born kayaker Mark de Jonge felt Sunday morning as he prepared for a pivotal race-off in the 200-metre sprint at the national Olympic trials at Bassin Olympique here.

But world-record good?

De Jonge paddled the distance in 33.804 seconds – more than 0.17 seconds quicker than the fastest time recorded in competition – to earn his first Canadian Olympic team jacket at 28.

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He even managed to surprise himself while doing it.

“I felt good . . . but I never expected it would 33.8 fast, I didn’t even know that was possible,” joked de Jonge, who put his day job as a civil engineer on hold to take one last shot at making the Summer Games.

Because de Jonge’s time was clocked at a national trials rather than an international event, it won’t eclipse the 20-year-old official record, but as a team executive put it: “I guarantee there are people in Europe who sat up when they saw that time.”

De Jonge placed sixth at the last world championship – earning a quota spot for Canada in London – and was third at Eton Dorney, the Olympic venue, in a test event last fall.

Dreams of a gold medal suddenly seem more attainable.

It’s been a heady few days for de Jonge, who missed the World Cup season because of a broken finger (suffered at the hands of a dropped 80-pound dumbbell)and hasn’t been tested against the world’s best since last fall.

“I had a lot of pressure from that and having a good performance under pressure means a lot going into the Olympics. Maybe that pressure will have been more than the Olympics itself, it’s a confidence booster for sure,” de Jonge said at the team unveiling Monday.

Sprint kayak coach Fred Jobin, who works with de Jonge and with kayak-doubles (K-2) 200-metre pair Hugues Fournel and Ryan Cochrane – the distance is making its debut at this Games – was bullish about his charges and their chance of success in London.

“If they put together their best race, everything becomes possible,” he said, adding he was stunned by de Jonge’s “crazy” time.

The 2012 edition of the flat-water kayak and canoe team is a pared-down version of the squad that Canada sent to Beijing in 2008, but what it lacks in numbers – there are no kayak-quadruples (K-4) entries this year) – it makes up in quality.

The headliners are former Olympic champion Adam van Koeverden of Oakville, Ont., and his childhood pal Mark Oldershaw, a third-generation Olympian from Burlington, Ont., who stands a strong chance of winning his clan’s first medal.

Van Koeverden is a gold medal contender in the kayak-singles (K-1) 1,000-metre race. Oldershaw will race in the canoe-singles (C-1) 1,000 metres. He won a World Cup race at the distance earlier this season.

Fournel, of Montreal, and Windsor, N.S., product Cochrane (not to be confused with the Canadian swimmer of the same name) are also confident of a good showing – they placed fourth at Eton Dorney last September.

Cochrane, a 28-year-old who like his old friend de Jonge has finally made the Olympics after twice falling just short, quipped, “We’re a little older than we thought we’d be, but hey, we’re going.”

Women’s K-1 competitor Émilie Fournel, older sister of Hugues, is paddling at two distances in her second Olympics.

Sprint canoe specialist Jason McCombs, a Dartmouth, N.S., native who at 19 is the baby of the outfit, will compete in the C-1 200 metres.

National team leader Mark Granger said the expectation is all seven Canadian entrants will post top-six finishes, and that the team wants to bring back at least two medals.

Were de Jonge to capture a third, he laughed, “It would be bigger than winning the Stanley Cup.”

 

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