Saturday, August 11, 2012
Britain's Ed McKeever wins gold
WINDSOR, England -- Living up to the billing of "Usain Bolt on Water" is a bit daunting for unassuming British kayaker Ed McKeever.
After all, the reticent man from England's West Country does not put his finger to his lips to quiet any critics that might be lurking. He does not mug for cameras, either.
What he does is win.
On Saturday, McKeever surged to the gold medal in his sport's fastest, newest and most exciting Olympic event. He thrashed and splashed his way to victory in the 200-meter K-1 in 36.246 seconds. And that makes it a little easier for him to acknowledge the talk of Bolt in a Boat.
"To be honest, I ignored it for most of the time, dismissed it. But luckily I have one of these now," said McKeever, waving the gold medal in front of him with a half-smile. "I'm more willing to accept it now."
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was at Dorney Lake with his family to watch the host nation win its 26th gold of the games, knew of the comparisons between Bolt and McKeever.
"I'd read about him. He's pretty quick isn't he?" Cameron said as he crossed a bridge near the finish line. "He's worked at it incredibly hard and there must have been enormous pressure to deliver on the day. There's such a short amount of time to get it right and he absolutely did."
Britain can now claim to have the fastest paddler in the world in McKeever, the 28-year-old trainee accountant who put his wedding plans on hold until next month to chase Olympic gold. His fiancee, Anya, was in the crowd and was reduced to tears.
"She was so happy, overjoyed," McKeever said. "I'll probably leave the gold medal at home on the wedding day. We don't want it to draw focus away from the bride, do we?"
With Britain also winning a bronze in the last of the morning's four finals -- the 200-meter K-2 -- home fans left a Dorney Lake venue that has been a welcoming port for the British at the Olympics. The rowing was also held there and Britain finished as the top nation, winning three golds, two silvers and three bronzes.
In canoe sprint, Hungary led the way for the first time since 2000. Natasa Douchev-Janics' bronze in the K-1 200, which was by New Zealand's Lisa Carrington, on Saturday was Hungary's sixth medal of the regatta -- the same as that of longtime rival Germany.
Both countries also won three golds each, but two silvers by Hungary put it above the Germans.
Carrington, the current world champion and a distant niece of former All Blacks rugby winger Ken Carrington, became New Zealand's first female medalist in the sport.
"I think you only dream of this and it's pretty special," she said. "But it just reminds me of how much hard work and how much fun I've had leading into this."
In the two other finals, Yuri Cheban of Ukraine led from start to finish to win the C-1 200, adding to the world title he captured in 2009. And Yury Postrigay and Alexander Dyachenko won the K-2 200, capping a breakthrough year for the Russian pair.
These games marked the first time 200-meter races had been run at an Olympics, replacing the 500 for men following a decision in 2010 by the International Canoe Federation to change the Olympic program. With explosive starts and tight finishes, the shorter sprints proved a crowd-pleaser.
ICF President Jose Perurena Lopez called it a "big, big success."
"We have had more countries winning medals, more possibilities," he said.
Hungary and Germany have long been the forces in canoe sprint, but they have been pushed aside in the 200 in world and European finals in recent years. The trend continued Saturday.
McKeever is known to have a quick start and he produced one when it mattered, taking a crucial early lead over rivals Mark de Jonge of Canada and Saul Craviotto Rivero of Spain.
"I just stuck my head down and got on with it," said McKeever, who was a journeyman paddler over 500 and 1,000 meters before the introduction of the 200 to the Olympic program.
Roared on by a 20,000-strong crowd, McKeever settled into his rhythm of three strokes per second and finished 0.25 seconds ahead of Craviotto Rivero. De Jonge, whose Olympic hopes nearly ended in April when he dropped an 80-pound dumbbell on his left hand, beat France's Maxim Beaumont for the bronze medal by three-hundreths of a second.
It was Canada's third medal of the regatta, after a silver to Adam van Koeverden in the K-1 1,000 and a bronze to Mark Oldershaw in the C-1 1,000.
Carrington's victory denied Douchev-Janics, one of Hungary's greatest paddlers, a fourth Olympic title. On Thursday, Douchev-Janics also missed out on a third straight gold in the K-2 500, settling for silver when Germany edged her and Katalin Kovacs.
"I'll sit down and think whether I want to continue," she said. "I'm not sure. My spirit has been taken away a bit."