The men’s canoe slalom provided one of the most intriguing contests of these Games, with a whole host of athletes regarded as serious contenders for gold. Foremost among them was the reigning champion Lukáš Pollert of the Czech Republic.
Standing in his path was a veritable battalion of heavyweight challengers:- Great Britain’s Gareth Marriott, Slovenia’s Simon Hočevar, Germany’s Martin Lang and also "Davey" Hearn of the USA. Each harboured genuine hopes of victory.
It was Pollert who led after the first run, with France’s Patrice Estanguet in second position. Marriot was third with Lang in fifth.
Hočevar and Hearn had both struggled in their first runs, but produced much improved displays with their second runs. Conversely, the frontrunners all faltered.
Pollert was only 16th quickest over the second run, while Estanguet was fourth fastest. However, there was one competitor who appeared to be revelling in the extra stress, and that was the rather unheralded figure of Slovakia's Michal Martikán.Getty
Martikán was just 17 years old, but a few months earlier he had become the youngest ever winner of a slalom canoeing gold at the World Cup. He was sixth fastest after the first run in Atlanta, but was clearly determined to make the most of his Olympic debut. He simply threw everything into his second run, taking risks that came off and producing a magnificent performance to record the fastest time, and move to the top of the leaderboard.
It was a great moment for him, and also for his new country – this was Slovakia’s first gold medal since it had formed as an independent country following the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993.
Martikán subsequently went on to win a medal at each of the following five Games, giving him a running total of two golds, two silvers and a bronze by the time he had competed at London 2012. Still just in his mid-thirties, he will be looking to add to that medal haul in Rio in 2016.