There will be no second chance for Adam van Koeverden in London.
Unlike four years ago in Beijing, when the star Canadian kayaker rebounded from an eighth-place finish in one event to win silver in another the next day, van Koeverden will race in only one event at the Olympics this year.
That’s because the kayak singles (K-1) 500-metre race – in which the Oakville, Ont., native burst onto the Olympic scene with a gold medal in Athens in 2004 – has been eliminated altogether from the Games.
The decision outraged many members of the canoe and kayak community when it was made in 2009, with the international federation stating it was done to introduce the 200-metre race “in the interests of keeping the sport exciting and appealing to international viewers.”
Since then, van Koeverden has focused his training almost entirely on the 1,000 metres, an event in which he is the reigning world champion and has a bronze medal from Athens.
Excelling in two distances just wasn’t an option this time around.
“It’s impossible to train effectively for both,” he said. “You’re racing 31/2 minutes or 35 seconds; your workouts are going to be way different.”
Losing an event in which he has won two of his three Olympic medals – part of a phenomenal success story that has included van Koeverden carrying the flag for Canada at an opening and closing ceremony – was initially difficult to take.
In an interview a few weeks before leaving for London, he said he was “still pissed off” over the change.
“I was frustrated that we weren’t even asked our opinions,” van Koeverden said. “We are racing, and they didn’t even ask any of us. I just wasn’t consulted. They just didn’t consult any athletes, which is just wrong. It’s not an autocracy. It’s not. It shouldn’t be.”
It’s a switch that had ramifications for another Canadian medal contender, too, as canoeist Mark Oldershaw was also likely to have competed in both distances.
Van Koeverden and Oldershaw both train at Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville under Scott Oldershaw, a former Olympian who is Mark’s father, and went through similar situations with the elimination of the 500-metre race in their discipline.
“It took away for both of them their best event,” Scott Oldershaw said. “It meant an adjustment in training, which is challenging. It was disappointing losing that for sure.”
“To see a double medalist would be completely unheard of now with the 200 and 1,000,” Mark Oldershaw added. “A lot of Olympics, you’d see the same guys on the podium in the 500 and the 1,000, and I think they wanted to spread the love.”
What began as a decisive blow to van Koeverden’s double medal hopes, however, has turned into a motivating factor for both Canadians in their respective events.
Close friends since they were teens, they worked together on improving their stamina and late race speed for most of the past two years, something both now admit they’ve enjoyed even if the circumstances behind the shift weren’t ideal.
“To be honest, it’s been really good for both of us,” Mark Oldershaw said. “I mean Adam didn’t like it at all at first. He thinks it’s definitely the wrong decision, but there’s two sides to every story. Everyone that’s racing 200 now thinks it’s a great idea. It’s opened the door up to more different athletes because you’re either a sprinter or you’re a 1,000-metre paddler now and it’s pretty cool to see the different types of athletes doing the different events.
“As far as us, our career, I think it only benefited us because it made us refocus and re-evaluate what we were doing. If we kept doing the same thing over and over again, it would have been really monotonous and really kind of draining.”