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The opening finals day of the Rio 2016 sprint competition saw four gold medals handed out. In the men’s C1 1000m, Sebastian Brendel of Germany held off a determined challenge from Brazil’s Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos to successfully defend his London 2012 crown. Though the home favourite made a fast start to break clear of his more experienced rival, Brendel’s strength proved decisive in the end.
“I had a good race,” said the two-time champion, who has now won 17 of his 19 major races since his London triumph. “Of course it comes to mind that you may lose, but I think I was extremely well prepared.”
Queiroz dos Santos had the consolation of collecting Brazil’s first ever Olympic medal in canoe sprint, while Serghei Tarnovschi’s bronze was only Moldova’s second canoe sprint medal and their first in any sport at Rio 2016. “My objective in coming to the Rio 2016 Games was to win three medals,” said the Brazilian paddler after his visit to the podium. “I’ve got one. There are still two left to go and I’m sure that I will be successful.”
Defending women’s K1 200m champion Lisa Carrington of New Zealand emulated Brendel, recovering from a slow start to cross the line first and continue her unbeaten run in 13 major races since becoming the event’s first gold medal winner in London. The Kiwi topped the podium ahead of Poland’s Marta Walczykiewicz and Azerbaijan’s Inna Osipenko-Rodomska, who took bronze to go with the silver she collected four years ago when she competed for Ukraine. Osipenko-Rodomska’s medal was Azerbaijan’s first in any canoe sprint event.
“Every time you get on the podium it’s different,” said Carrington. “It’s cool to be out there while still feeling the pressure and be able to compete. It’s amazing to finally make it here and do what I thought I could.”
In an enthralling men’s kayak single 1000m final, Spain’s Marcus Walz produced a stunning late burst to scoop gold by 0.698 seconds from the Czech Republic’s Josef Dostal and Russia’s Roman Anoshkin. Fernando Pimenta of Portugal made all the early running before Australia’s Murray Stewart and then Anoshkin took to the front before the 750m mark. Timing his run to perfection, however, 21-year-old Walz surged up from fifth and pipped the Czech to the line in a thrilling finish.
“Just incredible,” said Walz, after proving himself a worthy successor to compatriot David Cal, the winner of C1 1000m gold at Athens 2004 and four Olympic silvers. “I didn’t even know this year if I was going to qualify to go to the Olympics. Well, finally I did it. I just trained harder and harder these past months and I can’t even believe it. This is incredible. I feel great, incredible.”
There was an even tighter denouement in the women’s K2 500m final, with a photo finish needed to separate Gabriella Szabo and Danuta Kozák of Hungary from London 2012 champions, Tina Dietze and Franziska Weber of Germany. Despite putting in a fast finish to close right up on the Hungarians, the German pair had to settle for silver, with Karolina Naja and Beata Mikolajczyk of Poland taking bronze.
Understandably delighted to have squeezed home for the gold, Szabo said: “It was very, very hard for me. I still can’t believe it.” After collecting the third Olympic gold of her career, Kozák added: “I just followed Gaby and I just did it. This is a dream.”
Aside from Kozák’s comprehensive victory in the women’s K1 500m final, the three other races on the second day of finals all yielded close finishes. In the first of them, the men’s K2 1,000m final, reigning world champions Max Rendschmidt and Marcus Gross of Germany pulled out a sizeable lead and then held on to it as Marko Tomicevic and Milenko Zoric of Serbia attempted to chase them down. The German pair crossed the line 0.188 seconds clear of their closest pursuers, with Australia’s Ken Wallace – a K1 500m champion at Beijing 2008 – and Lachlan Tame doing just enough to take the bronze.
Explaining that his biggest concern was the challenge posed by the Australian duo, a relieved Gross said: “I think we did everything we could to pull clear in this race, because we knew they had a great finish and we tried to avoid that.”
As Tomicevic explained, his silver ended a 32-year wait: “It’s the first medal in our sport since 1984. It’s been a long time since Serbia has won a medal and it means a lot to us. We knew we could do it and we’re thrilled with this.”
Bronze medallist Wallace had something to say to the victorious Germans: “Guys, how do you manage to go so fast in the third 250m of the race? You blew us apart. And you’ve got a nice pink boat too.” Team-mate Tame added that the race took a lot out of him: “I can still see Germany’s pink boat pulling away. It just kept pulling away and away.”
Ukraine’s Yuriy Cheban successfully defended his men’s C1 200m title, but needed a late lunge for the line to do so, posting an Olympic record time of 39.279 seconds to beat Azerbaijan’s Valentin Demyanenko by 0.214 seconds. Brazil’s Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos won bronze, his second medal of the Games.
“Maybe the first time I won the medal it was more emotional, but this time I knew what I was preparing for,” said a relieved Cheban, catching his breath. “I expected a tough race and I got one. This race was much, much harder than the previous one.”
The Ukrainian put so much into his finish that he ended up in the water. Recalling the moment, he said: “In the final, every athlete is trying to push the nose of his boat as far as possible so they can finish first. My body weight went to the back of the boat and it capsized. It was a golden move.”
Spain’s Saul Craviotto and Cristian Toro scored a narrow win in the men’s K2 200m, beating London 2012 bronze medallists Liam Heath and Jon Schofield of Great Britain to the gold by 0.293 seconds, with Lithuania’s Aurimas Lankas and Edvinas Ramanauskas completing the top three.
It was Craviotto’s third Olympic medal, the Spanish paddler having won K2 500m gold with Carlos Pérez at Beijing 2008 and K1 200m silver at London 2012. “I never dreamed I could have three medals, and two of them golds.” Celebrating his first Olympic medal, his 24-year-old team-mate said: “I don’t have words to describe how I’m feeling. Maybe in a few days I’ll realise what happened. All my life I’ve dreamed of winning an Olympic gold medal and when we crossed the finish line I just felt so relaxed.”
Giving his reaction to just missing out on gold, Heath said: “We all came home together and there were thousandths in it, which is absolutely nothing. We were on the other side of the lake today and I had no idea of the result until the Spanish came up as the winners.” Schofield added: “It was such a strong field and we knew it was going to be the toughest K2 200m race ever.”
Reacting to his bronze, a delighted Lankas said: “I don’t think we’ve realised what we’ve just done. It’s going to take a while for this to sink in.”
Kozák retained her K1 500m title to win her second gold of the Games and the fourth of her Olympic career. A two-time world champion over the distance, the Hungarian quickly pulled away from the field to win by almost two seconds from Denmark’s Emma Jorgensen, who took silver in a photo finish from New Zealander Lisa Carrington, the double K1 200m champion.
After adding to her growing collection of golds, Kozák “I’m very, very happy. A few days ago I was ill but I’ve got better and better. I’m happy at how things have turned out. I was worried, but I’m mentally strong.”
“I was waiting and hoping,” said a thrilled Jorgensen, describing the moments before finding out she had won silver. “I was surprised at the result, but I knew I could do it.” Pleased just to be back on the podium, Carrington said: “It’s pretty amazing. It was such a tough race.”
The last day of finals saw Hungarian kayaker Kozák become the first female paddler to pick up three golds in the same Olympic Games after winning the women’s K4 500m, a feat that only two other canoe sprint athletes have achieved in the history of the Games.
She and her team-mates Szabo, Tamara Csipes and Krisztina Fazekas-Zur won the gold by nearly a second from the Germany four of Tina Dietze, Franziska Weber, Sabrina Hering and Steffi Kriegerstein, with Dietze and Weber adding a second silver to the one they collected in the K2 500m. The Belarus quartet completed the podium after coming in almost three seconds behind the winners.
“I am so happy. I think it’d going to take a while for me to really believe what I’ve done,” said Kozák after becoming her country’s most decorated kayaker of all time, having taken her tally of Olympic medals to six: five golds and a silver.
Germany’s Sebastian Brendel teamed up with Jan Vandrey to add the men’s C2 1,000m gold to his Rio 2016 C1 1,000m crown. Thrilled at completing his double, Brendel said: “It’s a tough, tough race and it’s amazing that we could win it. I’m just happy that the competition is over for me and I’m standing here with two gold medals.”
Taking silver behind them, just 0.907 seconds adrift, were Brazil’s Isaquias Quieroz dos Santos and Erlon de Souza Silva, who led from the start but saw their hopes of winning their country’s first Olympic canoe sprint gold dashed by the Germans. Quieroz dos Santos nevertheless had the satisfaction of completing a notable hat-trick of medals before his home crowd and of becoming the first Brazilian athlete to win three medals at the same Games. Taking the bronze behind the home paddlers were Dmytro Ianchuk and Taras Mishchuk of Ukraine.
Not content with winning the men’s K2 1,000m title, Germany’s Max Rendschmidt and Marcus Gross claimed K4 1,000m gold for good measure, joining forces with Tom Liebscher and Max Hoff to cross the line ahead of the Slovakian and Czech fours. Responding to his second Rio gold, Gross said: “I know the feeling, but it’s great to do it in the K4. It’s unbelievable. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Although disappointed not to win gold, Slovakia’s Erik Vlcek looked on the bright side: “I’m 35 and this is my fifth Olympics and my third medal. It would been better if we had won, but it’s ok. I have two silver medals and a bronze so I’m fine. Every Olympic medal is a special feeling and it’s a special competition.”
A silver medallist in the men’s K2 200m, Great Britain’s Liam Heath went one better in the K1 200m, crossing the line ahead of France’s Maxime Beaumont. K2 200m winner Saul Craviotto of Spain and German veteran Ronald Rauhe shared the bronze after recording the same time.