Thank you very much Olympic Games – it was Champion

 The last drops of richly deserved hyperbole are slowly settling on the historic sporting tapestry that recorded London’s sizzling summer of the greatest Olympic Games this earth has ever seen (in my humble opinion).

Olympic Games – London 2012

I for one am breathless – our happy and glorious isle stepped right up to the plate and hit so many home runs that we all lost count and the world duly took note. Athletes, spectators, organising committee and sports gave us such a rich harvest of memories now committed to the virtual world, that London added VAT to the mark of 10 meaning excellent.

Dorney Lake too played its part in sprinkling golden stardust on the ‘G’ of the Games. It looked stunning, bedecked in its Olympic clothing it was like a nervous teenager about to go to its first prom when it opened its doors to the first spectators.

Panorama of Dorney

But when the music started it was party time. The venue rocked. It emanated a wall of sound, created by British fervour that swept up the course like a tsunami, pushing the athletes closer to home, and putting them into an atmosphere usually reserved for rock stars.

Rowing got the party well and truly started with winning a total of 9 medals in 14 events including the first gold for team GB,  with none more poignant than that earned by Katherine Grainger who has sought the holy golden grail of Rowing and Olympic sport for over 4 Olympic cycles.  Then it was the turn of Canoe Sprint.

Looking down the lake at sundown

By the time we got to the last day, the 200m finals, the competition had already written some fairy tales: Eirik Veraas Larsen(NOR) won his second Olympic gold medal in the MK1 1000m,

Eirik Veraas Larsen took his second Olympic Gold in the MK1 1000m

outpacing Adam Van Koeverden (CAN) in the final furlongs, the strongest part of the Larsen race armoury, while the GB crowd tried to cheer Tim Brabants further up the finishing positions. Portugal, to the delight of many of its female supporters, also gained its first ever Olympic Canoeing medals in the silvery form of Fernando Pimenta and Emanuel Silva in the K2 1000m.  With Peter Kretschmer and Kurt Kuschela (GER) winning the C2 1000m, both under the age of 22, the sport demonstrated that it’s already secured its legacy.

The ink in the record books barely dried as day on day, spectators numbers grew, slick shuttle buses rode the roads and a record number of 350 media including  91 photographers rocked up for finals, shifting the sport from the margins to mainstream overnight.

The preliminary stages of the 200m races, saw the decibel count go ballistic confirming that this Olympic distance is here to stay, but there was something missing – an unmentionable itch within the Organising Team, that everyone wanted to scratch but no-one dared mention.

At 04:30am on 11th August, the last day of competition,  a huge elephant appeared at the early morning briefing.  ‘OK – so are we (GB) going to win a medal today?’ – said one of the venue team. Suddenly it was out there, the question everyone had wanted to ask for the last 5 days. Expectant eyes swivelled towards me.  ‘I boldly predict two medals today’ I said as the meeting concluded. I stood up quickly, bolting to the canteen for a caffeine shot and solitude to silently send goodwill wishes that Ed McKeever, Jon Schofield and Liam Heath had all slept well.

At 09:37 precisely, the collective breath of the 24,365 spectators was held for the expectant countdown preceding the start of the mens kayak final. Sports Presentation know a thing or two about creating an atmosphere and an audible heartbeat pounded over the airwaves. On the P of the starting peep, GB’s best medal chance, Ed McKeever, thrust his blade in the water, pushed against his footrest and tore the water from the lake as he thrashed off the start.

Not that I know this, as I was buried in the bowels of the Finish Tower, cajoling equipment and human beings to keep getting things right and for this to be Ed’s day but I pictured in my head, Ed  getting it right as he has consistently done over the last 3 years. In just over 36 seconds, the roar told me all that I needed to know as the celebrations would have woken the Saturday morning stay-in-bedders in Bath, never mind nearby Windsor.  Ed had his gold medal; Britain had its golden man of the moment.

Ed McKeever, Olympic Champion

So much for Gamesmaker impartiality – after confirming the result I rushed out of the finish tower into the arms of colleagues and proceeded to jump up and down in a very childish manner but such was the occasion, it called for the childish expression of pure delight. I bear-hugged a man next to me – a high ranking officer in Thames Valley Police, and on another day, bodily assault could have been written on the charge sheet. But no-one cared.  At the medal ceremony  shutters snapped repetitiously and the TV feed rolled as the images syndicated to over 4 billion people worldwide confirmed that McKeever was the ‘boss’ of London. By the time the final race of the day and the Canoe Sprint event took to the starting line (MK2) with Liam Heath and Jon Schofield, the bubbly was in the chiller. Just nudged out of the silver medal position, but taking bronze, the Brits had put the icing on a cake made for Britain and the British.

The venue closed two hours later and some time after that, the volunteers and staff met on the forecourt of the by now, deserted boathouse to toast six great days of competition. We were all proud of what we had the privilege to see and be part of – we were all London’s pride in celebration.

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GB canoe sprinters continue ‘love-in’ with 200 metres.

Good news is ringing out for Britain from the Canoe Sprint World Cup regatta in Germany this weekend. Ed McKeever, our nation’s prolific gold medal winner over 200ms, is looking very comfortable on the top step of that presentation podium.

Ed McKeever took gold in K1 200m in World cup regatta last weekend

It’s not the fact that he won again today, but the nature of the win – almost 0.5 second ahead of popular Ecuadorian, Cesar de Cesare – that grabs the attention and which will have canoeing fans screaming in their dreams with excitement and anticipation of this same event which will take place in the Olympic Games on 11 August.

His success was backed up by another improved performance from the K2 of Liam Heath and Jon Schofield  (below) who took the silver medal.  Recently dubbed the seemly ‘perennial bridesmaids’ to the French pair of Hybois & Jouve,  the GB  pair surpassed then this time around.  GB is in ‘a good place’ said coach Alex Nikonorov but he will have duly taken notice of the Russian machine, in the form of  the powerful units of Postrygay and Dyachenko who took the gold medal and in so doing,  surpassed the Brits by the same margin as McKeever, to win gold.  ‘Beware of the Russians’ is a warning well heeded.

Liam Heath and Jon Schofield took silver in MK2 200m.

Satisfactory Sunday
While Saturday brought gnawed fingernails for the women’s coaching staff – Rachel Cawthorn found herself in the unnatural habitat of the WK1 500m ‘C’ final and the Womens K4 finished in 5th place – Sunday was a much better day on the water for the whole team.  
Jess Walker won her K1 200m B final in a time that would have placed her third in the A final. Richard Jefferies, in a start line stuffed with stars including an Olympic champion (though be it in the 1000m distance) tied for third place in a time of 40.9 seconds. He has certainly put his hand up and said, ‘Pick me’.

Riddles resolved
As World cup 2 draws to an end, selection riddles have been solved.

Tim Brabants shall go to the Games – his fourth (subject to his nomination by GB canoeing to the British Olympic Association) – to race the K1 1000m. The soon-to-be father of two, commented ‘I’m just relieved that this part of the process is over. It’s time to get my head down and train hard for the Games, if I want to win the gold medal’.  His aim is very clear and there is work to do to catch the likes of Adam Van Koeverden (CAN) the world champion and Aleh Yurenia (BLR) , the winner this weekend.

The deciding factor was a semi-final on Friday where Brabants and Paul Wycherley went head to head with Brabants taking the win 2.6 seconds ahead of the Guildford man. While some, who do not know Paul, might have expected churlishness, Wycherley was a model professional, stepping up to win his B final on Saturday morning. Clearly disappointed as any mortal would be, Wycherley, the man, has impressed with the way he’s conducted himself and has shown that he is closing the gap on the rest of the world. Giving the likes of Brabants and Veraas Larsen 10 years and Van Koeverdan 4, time is on his side.

Next stop for the British team is the European Championships and then a date with destiny at Dorney in August for the Olympic shakedown.

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Canoe Sprint World Cup 2 signals last chance selection saloon

In Canoe Sprint world, the only place to be this weekend is the passion pit of Duisburg regatta course in Germany  where the second ICF World Cup regatta will be held.  It’s an iconic venue, a stadium built like a bottle neck providing the best atmosphere for the closing stages of any race.  It’s delivered scenes of sporting ecstasy and tragedy in equal measure and come Sunday, it’ll be more of the same.  The significance of this particular event is that for some athletes, it’s the final opportunity bang their sizeable paddles on the tables of the various Olympic team selectors and say ‘pick me’. 

Final British showdown
For Britain’s Olympic champion, Tim Brabants and Paul Wycherley, it will signify the end of a process that has fuelled twitter twaddle for the last 10 months. The best performance of the two will take the GB Olympic K1 1000m selection spot.  It’s a duel like that of Cycling’s Sir Chris Hoy versus Jason Kenny for the single sprint slot.

Tim Brabants – won in April

For Brabants, Duisburg holds strong memories. His World Championship gold was bagged here in 2007 after a memorable race with Adam Van Koeverden. Coming into the last 100ms he struck for the lead where he stuck like any good adhesive, repelling wave after wave of attack from the Canadian. He could well replay those moments in his mental cinema as he prepares for the preliminary rounds on Friday.  He will also take comfort that Norwegian Eirik Veraas Larssen whose career has a similar time line and success story, is coming back into peak form. Time does not have to be an unwelcome guest.  For Wycherley (below), with nothing to lose, could it be his time?  The irony is neither may meet until the final, as the nuances of the regatta  draw system could place them in separate races all through the journey. There is nothing better than a  head – to –head duel. It’s clean, it’s clinical, winner takes the prize. 

 Irrespective of the outcome, there will be no schadenfreude, and Brabants will remain a lodestar for this canoeing nation. A low maintenance, high yield athlete with three Olympic medals in the last 3 Olympic Games, 1 gold and 4 silvers at World Championships, the national debt to the man is significant.

The British also have a C1 issue to resolve,  Matt Lawrence, James Train and Richard Jefferies will make the selectors job difficult, where comparisons will have to be drawn between 200m and 1000m events. 

Winning Ways
Moving away from selection snakes and ladders, GB’s  big Mac for the big pond, Ed McKeever, will be on patrol with Heath and Schofield in the 200m events. Their mission, which they’ve already accepted, is to sniff out more medals.  Expect them to headline on Sunday. It will also be good to see the GB Womens K4 back in action for the first time this season. Following an extended period of winter training to improve individual levels, there’s a hunger in the crew to get back to business. The final is on Saturday.

International incidentals

The Hungarian team which will race this weekend, has some contests of its own to resolve. Kristina Fazekas- Zur will race off against Danuta Kozak for the K1 500m place. Fazekas, who has worn the vest of the USA for the last two years, was unable to meet the USA Olympic NOC regulations in time and so is back in the green, white and red of Hungary. The race that ticks all of the boxes is the women’s K2 500m where  multi Olympic medal winners Katalin Kovacs and Natasa Janics take on Tamara Csipes and Gabriella Szabo.  Hungary’s finest will face Germany’s two top line crews of Wagner & Augustin, Leonhardt and Dietze. Throw in the Austrian world champions, Schurring and Schwarz, and the crowd will purr .

In C2 1000m, Germany’s  Kretchmer and Kuscela who bloodied the noses of favourites, Wylenzek and Holz, by winning in Poznan, will again take to the water. The tea leaves are in the air on this one.  As they say over here,  ‘ alles ist offen’

photo credits: AE photos

 

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Canoe Sprint World Cup ends with more questions than answers

Great Britain’s serial medal detectors,  Ed McKeever (MK1 200m) and Liam Heath with Jonny Schofield (MK2 2000m) once again, made the podium their home today in Poznan, at the Canoe Sprint World Cup1,  to ring out some good news for GB.

Heath and Schofield – Silver medal today.

For McKeever,  normal service was resumed as he climbed the extra step back to the top landing, to collect the gold medal. With his 2011 nemesis, Piotr Siemionowski not yet back to full racing after a wrist injury, McKeever was never seriously threatened and he enjoyed his day on a sunnier Polish day. Heath and Schofield, with the World Champions on their right hand side, had a shocker of a start. The French blasted out on the ‘P’ of the starting peep, drew out a lead which in the end, wasn’t really challenged. The British pair did an outstanding job to mug the rest of the field and take second place, in an event where you just can’t afford to let the field get a jump ahead.

Duisburg & World Cup 2

For sure, this is still early season. Olympic medals are not handed out after World Cup 1 though there would have been secret hopes for better placings. Paul Wycherley made only his second World Cup A final.  There is more for him to learn about this, the most tactical of races. Rachel Cawthorn surely will be looking for a mid-place finish his time next week for which the confidence locker will be grateful. To do this she’ll want to apply some more gas to the engine that drives her fast finish which appeared to splutter in Poznan.

With kayak and canoe conundrums still in the melting pot, GB is not the only nation with  a selection Rubik’s cube which will twist a few more times before its resolved.

International Perspective
Poznan threw up a number of international riddles at the preferred end of the results list. Riddles that will keep fingers tapping and pencils chewed in the virtual and written media world for a few more days yet.

Azerbaijan threw another potential young superstar into the spotlight in the form of 19 year old Andriy Kraytor who was never seriously troubled in his win in the C1 200m. His countryman and current World Champion, Valentin Dymanyenko will sleep a little less easily from here on in.

While Canada, too,  has canoe decisions to make, Germany, probably the strongest nation in this sport, has two problems. In C2 1000m the notional ‘second string’ boat of  Kretschmer and Kuschela defeated the World Champions and Olympic gold medallist, Tomasz Wylenzek and Stefan Holz to gold, by hundredths of a second and in the WK2 ‘youngsters’ Weber & Dietze, put the Olympic medallists Leonhardt and Augustin to the sword.

I, for one can’t wait for next weekend to see how it all plays out.

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Wycherley levels GB canoe sprint selection battle at World Cup 1

Rarely is business decided on semi final day at any regatta. Today, in Poznan at the first World Cup of the 2012 season, this tenet creaked in the continued bad weather, as Paul Wycherley qualified for the Men’s kayak A final while Tim Brabants did not.  In so doing, he levelled the best-of-three series in this high profile challenge with Tim for the athlete place allocated to the host nation for the  Men’s K1 1000m  event at the Olympic Games.

Paul Wycherley – made the MK1 ‘A’ final today

Congratulations to Paul, who took 2nd place in his semi-final, following talented Danish paddler, Rene Holten Poulsen,  over the line in a time of 3:54.

Tim  finished in 4th place in a time of 3:56, behind one of the most recent Olympic qualifiers, Cyril Carre (Fra), confining him to the B final.

 The denouement of this particularly British drama will play out next weekend at Duisburg, Germany under the auspices of World Cup 2.

 Brabants held the advantage, going into this event, following a win at the April British National regatta where three hundredths of a second separated him from Wycherley. Amazingly such margins can exist over a race that takes typically around 3 minutes 27 seconds to complete on a good day. Conditions in Poland today dictated that the best semi-final time was 3:44.

 Other Regatta News

Other news from World Cup 1, on a day that hosted 1000m and 500m racing, included smoke signals indicating Britain’s golden girl, Rachel Cawthorn,

Rachel Cawthorn, riding the waves in Poznan, will race in Saturday’s final (library picture)

is getting back to her old racing form. She won the third fastest semi-final and will face familiar adversaries such as Nicole Reinhardt (GER) and Inna Osypenko-Radomska (UKR) in the ‘A’ final.  This will be a harder examination of her return to fitness after a injury and illness interrupted season in 2011. Louisa Sawers experienced the misfortune of disqualification in her heat for an underwieght boat.

 200m action on Saturday

Britain’s canoe sprint medal generating machine,  the 200m squad, including  Ed McKeever, Liam Heath & Jon Schofield, will start their competition tomorrow. No doubt the capture of more treasure for their burgeoning medal troves is in the plan.

Photos:  Courtesy of AE Photos

 

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GB hopes of additional Olympic canoeing places blown away

Today, in a cold and blustery Poznan, a city which will host a leg of the Euro 2012 Football tournament in just over a month’s time, Great Britain’s hopes of qualifying further Canoe Sprint Olympic athlete places galloped away with the prolific white horses that charged down the regatta course.  

Lani Belcher and Angela Hanna, were GB’s outstanding lions in every sense of the word. In a tough K2 500m final, they crossed in third place, behind a heavily backed Swedish crew of Nordlow and Johansson.

Lani Belcher and Angela Hannah

It was no surprise to see the Scandinavians take an early lead which none could ultimately challenge. Belcher was a beacon in the front of the boat, holding her rhythm while Hannah slavishly worked the engine room in the second seat. Despite losing ground on the Swedes in the first 100m, as did the rest of the pack, they just never gave up. The effort of the race surely depleted the resources of Belcher who went to the well a second time for the final of the Women’s K1 200m.  She came up a little empty.  Lighter athletes will always struggle more than their heavier counterparts in such conditions and although delivering her trademark gritty performance, the elements ultimately dictated her fate.

Heart break

In the C1 200m event, Richard Jefferies’ campaign appeared to end in heart break. Pictured being driven to shore in a rescue boat, his despondency at capsizing in the rough conditions within 30 ms of the line while still in contention in his semi-final, was palpable.  Head bowed in hands, the background shot showed the victor, Astapovs of Latvia in rhapsody.  The twin imposters of Triumph and Disaster were right on visual cue.  Only three of the competitors finished, being indicative of conditions. The Chief Judge declared a re-race; time for Jefferies to climb back in the saddle.  A fifth place was a respectable performance and good medicine to aid the healing process.  He will now race off against Matt Lawrence and James Train in Duisburg for the GB host nation C1 place.

In the K2 1000m, Jon Boyton partnered by Edward Rutherford finished in 6th in the semi final.  Rutherford should take heart, there will be other opportunities. He represents the future of GB canoeing. For Boyton, susceptible to occasional splenetic outbursts regarding GB team selections, some self reflection and thoughts of Rio may be the order of the day.

Para Canoeing World Championships

The submergence of GB’s Olympic campaign was turned from negative to positive buoyancy by the untold success of the Para Canoe squad, which will be heading home with a record haul of 6 gold medals.  

Jeanette Chippington – 4 time gold medal winner in Para Canoe

Four wins went to for former swimmer, Jeanette Chippington and one-a -piece to Dan Hopwood and Nick Heald.

 Coaches John Griffiths and Trevor Wetherall will sleep well tonight.

Thoughts now turn to the World Cup event which starts on Friday and will conclude on Sunday with a number of storylines still to be written.  Is there room for 3 time Olympic gold medallist, Katrin Wagner Augustin, in the German team? Will Max Hoff double-up? Who will gain the Australian MK1 1000m Olympic selection. Oh yes, and there’s the next installment of the Tim Brabants/ Paul Wycherley race-off.  You wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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Lani leads GB quest for more Olympic canoeing places

Lani Belcher, the 22 year old canoe sprint kayaker who freely admits that every time she pulls on the GB vest she’s fulfilling a dream, will lead the GB team in the second round European continental Olympic qualifier on 16/17 May in Poland.

Lani Belcher (front) and Angela Hannah (back) in action last year

Belcher races in the Women’s K1 200m and K2 500m with Angela Hannah. With only two athlete places available in each of these classes, the size of the task is comparable to England’s football team defeating Spain, Sweden and Portugal, to reach the World Cup finals. Not a task not for the faint-hearted nor for those with fear of failure.

Be very assured that Belcher is nothing of the faint variety and everything of the lion-hearted variety. She relishes the task ahead. Born in Australia to British parents in the same year that Sugar Ray Robinson rolled up his mortal coil, she is blessed with the same doggedness, grit and bloody mindedness that Robinson was renowned for – the ‘must-have’ qualities that ooze in a winner. She is also possibly the best GB women’s racer, ‘pound for pound’ and the perfect choice to lead GB into the toughest challenge of her kayaking career to date.

Lani arrived here in 2008 having spent the first 18 years of her life in Queensland having worn the ‘green and gold’ colours on more than one occasion as a junior. Despite this, home fires burned deeply. The subliminal messaging of her daily upbringing confirmed to her that her heart was hewn of  ‘Pommie’ mica and the desire to represent Britain was ever -kindling.  ‘I always thought of myself as British. When any sport was on the TV, my mum and dad always supported England’

In wishing to emulate her parents who had both represented GB in canoe marathon racing, she followed her mother and her heart to this sceptred isle, on a cold December day in the year of the Beijing Games. GB Canoeing instantly warmed to her and took Belcher to their heart. She reciprocated – in spades. She first wore the GB vest in 2009 and has contributed to the GB medal coffers with one gold and two silver medals the 5km event in European and World Championships.

Joy versus Job

Lani wins 5km in Euro Championships

Belcher loves the 5km event.  Although not an Olympic event, it’s clearly pure joy for her. ‘ I love it, it’s a release. I love the tactics and it brings back my joy of marathon racing. Its my own indulgence, I go into every race without pressure and I enjoy it; the aggression, the close contact, its great.’

Putting her ‘joy’ to one side, she is totally dialled in on the task in hand.

‘ My heart and soul are fully in the K2  500m for this regatta. We have to qualify our [Olympic] spot. That’s our job and that’s why we attack every session to get the most we can each time and our performances are getting better and better’.

This is not the first occasion that Belcher and Hannah have raced internationally in K2. They competed at the European Championship in 2011 (9th). Following a short interlude when Hayleigh Mason partnered Belcher at the World Championships, the last two months has seen the pair become reacquainted in the boat.

‘The decision to work with Angela was made in Seville[at the training camp] in March. All of us were involved in the process and the decision -  the coaches, me, Hayleigh and Angela.  The great thing was that we all just wanted the fastest boat for the team, so everyone was very supportive. The domestic regatta in April was our first competitive outing and a good bench mark as to where we are. We know we have lots more to give and improve on. That’s the exciting thing. The boat is really solid now and our focus is solely on next week. When we sit on the start line, I’ll just be thinking about delivering my race plan to perfection. We wont leave anything out there’.

And that’s as certain as the fact that the Olympic Games will start on 27 July.  Belcher and Hannah are finding the challenge of Olympic qualification irresistible, they know it’s ‘kitchen sink’ time and sitting in the first seat of the K2, Belcher will lead from the front.

Note:

The European Continental  Qualification event  takes place on Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th June at Poznan, Poland where Lani will be joined in the Euro campaign by Richard Jefferies (C1 200m), Matt Lawrence (C1 1000m), Jon Boyton and Ed Rutherford (K2 1000m) amongst others. This event is followed by the first World Cup regatta of  the 2012 season where Tim Brabants and Paul Wycherley will once again contest the K1 1000m event. This time they will be joined by the rest of the world.

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