Canoes and Kayaks in Fast Waters
The first canoe/kayak medals of the Games were won at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park yesterday, with Michal Martikan of Slovakia taking gold in the men’s single canoe and Alexander Grimm of Germany doing likewise in the men’s single kayak.
Inspiration for youngsters
Ever since it first appeared as a full medal sport at the 1936 Games, canoe and kayak racing has provided inspiration for youngsters. A perfect example was Oliver Fix, born in Augsburg, Germany, one year after the 1972 Olympic canoe-kayak competition took place in that city. When he was nine he became the youngest person ever to negotiate the Olympic course, and in 1996 in Atlanta he won the men’s single kayak gold medal. Elisabeth Micheler, kayak slalom singles winner in 1992, also came from Augsburg.
In 1952, Frank Havens of the United States, winner of the single canoe 10,000 metres, had an unusual incentive to do well. In 1924, his father, Bill, should have been a member of the victorious American rowing eight at the Paris Olympic Games, but chose to remain at home to witness the birth of young Frank. Twenty-eight years later, Frank sent a telegram from Helsinki to his father that ended: “I’m coming home with the gold medal you should’ve won.”
Incredible Olympic record
The most successful Olympic men’s canoeist was Sweden’s Gert Fredriksson, who won six gold medals between 1948 and 1960, but even that cannot match Birgit Fischer’s incredible Olympic record. Fischer won eight gold medals and four silver over a record six different Olympic Games, twice representing East Germany then four times the united Germany. She has been both the youngest and the oldest ever Olympic canoeing champion, aged 18 in Moscow in 1980 and 42 in Athens in 2004.
At the other end of the scale was Costa Rica’s Gilda Montenegro. Her performance in the kayak slalom singles at the 1992 Olympic Games, with 470 penalty points on her first run and upside down for most of her second, was one of the worst in Olympic history, but she had never trained for whitewater canoeing and was offered the slot at the last minute. In 1996 she was back, and not only did she avoid finishing last in Atlanta, she ended up marrying none other than the men’s single kayak gold medallist – one Oliver Fix of Augsburg.