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Completing the podium behind the Briton, were Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer and Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec, the reigning world and European champion, who finished less than half a second off gold after incurring a two-second penalty for touching a gate.
Slovakia’s Jakub Grigar went fastest in the semi-finals followed by Prskavec and then Clarke, with Kauzer fourth. The Slovenian led in the final before Clarke set his winning time of 88.53, the Briton then enduring a nervous wait as the last two competitors, Prskavec among them, tried and failed to beat him to gold.
“I just can’t really put it into words,” said an ecstatic Clarke, whose win gave Team GB their very first ever gold in the event and only their second in the sport. “My words are probably just going to come out in one big blur, I’m just so made up. I have so many amazing memories of this sport and this just tops all of them in one day.”
As he went on to explain, the British canoeist was far from alone at the Whitewater Stadium: “I have a huge representation here. My family, friends, everybody is here to watch me and they are in the crowd chanting. I haven’t seen them yet but I know they are going to be feeling exactly the same as I am – on cloud nine.”
Voicing his praise for the facilities, he added: “The venue here is one of the best in the world. It is fantastic and a lot of paddlers really like it. We have done a lot of training camps here and it has become a second home here almost.
Silver medallist Kauzer, a two-time world champion in the event, commented: “I failed at two Olympics already so I said: ‘Let’s see if third time is a charm’, so I guess it was for me today. Maybe it’s better that I got it late, I don’t know how my career would follow, but this was the only medal that has been missing until today and now I have it.”