It took him years and thousands of miles of paddling on the murky waters of the Sixteen Mile Creek in Oakville, Ont., but Adam van Koeverden finally won his first gold medal in the 1,000-metre event at the world sprint canoe championships on Friday.
He did it in fine style, winning by three seconds, leaving all of his competitors in his wake with his aggressive go-to-the front style. He won his earlier heats and the semi-finals in similar fashion.
Van Koeverden, an Olympic gold medalist at the 500-metre distance in the single men's kayak, has finished second three times at 1,000 metres at the world championships, and third once. "But first is best," he said by phone from Szeged, Hungary.
He's raced the 1,000-metre event every year at the world championships since 2001, and even though he says it's his favourite event, he's never managed to win it before.
With the win, van Koeverden has earned a berth for Canada in the event for the Olympic Games in London next year.
And with his mother Beata Bokrossy in the crowd, he is cherishing the moment. "I know these moments are fleeting," said van Koeverden, who met with disappointment by finishing eighth in the 1,000 metres at the Beijing Games. "I've experienced the good ones and the bad ones. I know you really have to cherish the moment because they don't come around very often."
Van Koeverden won the race in 3 minutes, 36.194 seconds, while his best friend Anders Gustafsson of Sweden finished second in 3:39.488 and another friend Eirik Veraas Larsen of Norway was third in 3:39.818. Van Koeverden called it a "dream podium."
"Anders is awesome," van Koeverden said. "One of my best friends ever. Having him second is perfect. It's like music. And Eirik is a good friend. We've done so much training together. I've slept on both of those guys' floors for weeks at a time. I've had fights with both of them on the water. Not punching, but mad at each other for beating you. They're like family."
Van Koeverden was aware that two of his competitors in the final had already raced twice before earlier in the day in heats of the K-4. Realizing they were tired, he set a quick pace to frazzle them early, leaving them sapped of energy in the last several hundred metres.
Van Koeverden admits that he easily gets distracted in the final metres – and uptight when somebody comes up from behind with 300 metres left. But on Friday, he focused on the finish line, watched the buoys slip by him one by one, and kept his stroke rate high.
"And I kept thinking about the people watching and how I wanted to win for them," he said. "They've been to a lot of races and I've never won this event before. It was a long trip here for my mother and I'm sure she'd rather watch me win than get passed in the last 200 metres right in front of her."
The victory comes a year before the Olympic Games, but van Koeverden knows he still has a tough task ahead of him in the next year. "It doesn't change anything for next year," he said. "As we've seen, the sport is crazy now. There are so many guys from so many countries that are really, really good. It takes your best race every time, just to make the final.
"And you can't take anything for granted," he said. "Past victories don't ensure future ones."
Van Koeverden said he will return to Canada to race in the Canadian championships next week in Welland, Ont., and then take part in a pre-Olympic test event in London. He's never paddled over the London course before, but then, nobody but the British have, he said.
But for now, he's savouring the win. After he passed the finish wire, he threw his fist into the air, making a No. 1 with his finger, and let out a loud yell.