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Competing at every edition of the Games from London 1948 through to Rome 1960, Sweden’s Gert Fredriksson won more Olympic medals than any other male kayaker in history.
On 11 August 1948, the crowds who had gathered to watch the K-1 10,000m final on the banks of the River Thames at Henley saw history being made. Unusually for a kayak event, the final was a race “against the clock”, with each competitor making a staggered start in intervals of 30 seconds. Sweden’s Gert Fredriksson rose to the challenge superbly to record a time of 50.47:7 and leave second-placed Kurt Wires of Finland, trailing in his wake by a margin of 30.5 seconds. To this day, it remains the biggest winning margin in the history of the event. The final of the K-1 1,000m the following day reverted to a conventional group start but the outcome was the same, as the Swede was once more in unbeatable form. Holding back in fourth place for much of the race, he then accelerated into finish, crossing the line more than six seconds ahead of Norway’s Johan Frederik Kobberup. Fredriksson’s exploits at London 1948 were to be just the start of the Olympic journey for the 29-year old Nyköping-born paddler, whose impressive technique allied to enormous physical and mental strength, would provide him with the formula for success for over a decade.
At Helsinki 1952, Fredriksson defended his K-1 1,000m title with another fine display of power kayaking, but had to settle for silver in the K-1 10,000m, finishing behind Finland’s Thorvald Strömberg. Four years later, on Lake Wendouree outside Melbourne, he reprised his achievements of London 1948, as he notched a third consecutive Olympic title in the K-1 1,000m and exacted his revenge on Strömberg over the longer distance, to secure a second golden double.
Fredriksson was back on the start line on Lake Albano, the hub for the rowing, canoe and kayak events at Rome 1960. Despite the fact that he was now 41, he took bronze in the K-1 1,000m and then secured another gold together with Sven-Olov Sjödelius in the K-2 1,000m. With eight medals, including six gold, he remains the most successful male kayaker in Olympic history.
Fredriksson finally retired from competition in 1964, having amassed seven world titles to go with his Olympic medal haul. However, he soon returned to the Olympic stage as trainer of the Swedish kayak team at the 1968 games in Mexico City. Nyköping honoured Fredriksson with a statue, ensuring that the incredible feats of its favourite son, who passed away in his home town on 5 July 2006, are immortalised in bronze.