The new Olympic Channel brings you news, highlights, exclusive behind the scenes, live events and original programming, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.
The first of the Rio 2016 slalom finals saw France’s Denis Gargaud-Chanut win C1 gold by 0.85 seconds from Slovakia’s Matej Benus, with Japan’s Takuya Haneda taking the bronze. The 29-year-old Frenchman, who won the world title in 2011, produced a flawless run to succeed compatriot and three-time gold medallist Tony Estanguet as the Olympic champion.
“I love being under pressure. It suits my personality as an athlete,” said the triumphant Gargaud Chanut. “There was one moment where I said to myself that I was performing better than everyone else today, but I wavered two or three times, and that gave me a quick wake-up call. My strategy was to play it safe at the top of the run, so I could give myself the chance to produce a quick time at the bottom, and that’s what I managed to do. At the bottom of the run I was on fire.”
As if to symbolise the handover from one champion to another, it was Estanguet himself, who won the last of his three golds at London 2012 before being elected by his peers to the IOC Athletes’ Commission, who presented Gargaud-Chanut with his medal. To complete the scene, the 100 or so France supporters in the crowd then gave a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise.
The heir to Slovakian canoeing great Michal Martikan, an Olympic Champion at Atlanta 1996 and Beijing 2008, Benus produced a storming run of his own to take the lead before Gargaud-Chanut’s descent. “It was my dream to win an Olympic medal and take it home,” said the Slovakian. “I had a great run in the final, and went five seconds faster than I’d done in the semi-final. There were a lot of Slovakian fans here and the atmosphere was fantastic.”
Haneda’s bronze was Japan’s first Olympic canoe slalom medal, just reward for an excellent fault-free run. “I’ve been preparing for these Games for a long time,” he said after collecting his medal. “I knew I had to win a medal in Rio. I’ve been training in Slovakia since I was 19 and I’m delighted with the result. I am very grateful to my family, who have supported me since I went to Slovakia. I showed my medal to them before anyone else. It’s Japan’s first in canoeing. I feel so honoured and I dedicate it to all the people of Japan.”
“I just can’t really put it into words,” said Great Britain’s Joseph Clarke after landing the K1 slalom title. “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.”
Third-fastest in the semi-finals, Clarke stopped the clock in 88.53 seconds in the final and then looked on as first Jiri Prskavec of the Czech Republic and then Jakub Grigar of Slovakia failed to beat him. In succeeding Italy’s Daniele Molmenti as Olympic champion, the Briton won only his country’s second canoe slalom gold, after Timothy Baillie and Etienne Stott’s C2 triumph at London 2012.
Second on the podium was Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer, who came in 0.17 seconds behind Clarke, while Prskavec finished less than half a second off gold in third, having incurred a two-second penalty for touching a gate. A bronze medallist in London four years ago, Germany’s Hannes Aigner was a mere 0.03 seconds off the podium in fourth, with Grigar coming home fifth after qualifying first in the semi-final round. Loudly cheered by the home fans, Brazil’s Pedro Da Silva went out first in the final and held the lead for some time before eventually placing sixth.
Victorious in the British trials in October, Clarke was a surprise victor, having gone into the competition without a major title to name and having finished tenth at the 2016 European Championships. Reflecting on his memorable Olympic experience, Clarke said: “I wanted to build in every round. I did well in qualifying, placing second in the heats and then third in the semis, and I knew the time was right. Everything just sort of came together and I went away with the gold.” Recalling his nervous wait as the last two competitors tackled the course, the British canoeist added: “It was very tough. My nerves were jangling, but I’d done my job and it was out of my hands. I knew I had the bronze, then the silver and then the gold. Amazing!”
After collecting an Olympic medal at the third attempt, a relieved Kauzer commented: “I said to myself: ‘Let’s see if it’s third time lucky. I guess luck was on my side today. It’s been tough for me to come back, because I had a bad injury two years ago and I hurt my shoulder at the London 2012 Olympics. That makes me appreciate this silver even more.” Looking back on his performance also, Prskavec said, “Things went well in the heats and the semi-final, but not so good in the final. But for me, the Olympic medal is the sporting dream and I am so happy I got this bronze medal. It’s very special.”
A bronze medallist in the K1 four years earlier in London, Spain’s Maialen Chourraut finally got her hands on gold. In the absence of reigning Olympic champion Emilie Fer of France, who failed to qualify for Rio, the Spaniard powered her way to the title, ahead of Luuka Jones of New Zealand and Australia’s Jessica Fox, the London 2012 silver medallist. After qualifying in third place in the semi-finals, Chourraut conjured up a lightning-fast, penalty-free run to win by over three seconds from her antipodean rivals. First and second respectively in the semis, Austria’s Corinne Kuhnle and Great Britain’s Fiona Pennie both incurred penalties to finish fifth and sixth, behind Slovakia’s Jana Dutakova.
“I came to the Games to reach the final,” said a jubilant Chorraut. “We had the heats and the semi-finals and I didn’t feel anything. I just concentrated and kept on going. It’s all very hazy in my head. I’ll have to watch the video because I can’t remember a thing right now. When I started paddling my coach (Xabier Extaniz), who is my husband now, taught our small team the importance of perseverance. I think that this is the key.” A mother to a young daughter, the new Olympic champion was undecided as to whether she will attempt to defend her title at Tokyo 2020: “I’m going to take it take by day and keep on training. For now, though, I’m going to enjoy my day and have some fun.”
In celebrating Jones’s silver medal, two of her supporters jumped into the water. “That was my team-mate Mike Dawson and Bryden Nicholas of the Cook Islands,” explained the New Zealander. “I can’t remember what I said, but it was something like, ‘We did it!’. It’s huge. I guess it’s put canoe slalom in the spotlight. It’s not one of New Zealand’s key sports, but we now have our own whitewater course in Auckland and the young guys coming through in our sport will hopefully get a lot more support. It’s hopefully going to be a game-changer.”
Giving her reaction to winning bronze, Fox said: “I’m very happy to win another medal, and very happy to share the podium again with Maialen and to see her do a phenomenal run and to see Luuka as well. We’re neighbours, so for ‘Team Oceania’ it’s very cool to see two from our continent on the podium.”
The last canoe slalom gold of Rio 2016 went to cousins Ladislav and Peter Skantar of Slovakia in the C2. The Skantars topped the podium from London 2012 silver medallists David Florence and Richard Hounslow of Great Britain, and France’s Gauthier Klauss and Matthieu Péché, who finished just out of the medals four years ago. Respectively first and second in the semi-finals, Germany’s Franz Anton and Jan Benzien and the Czech Republic’s Jonas Kaspar and Marek Sindler failed to maintain their momentum and finished fourth and eighth.
In winning the title, the cousins maintained their country’s proud tradition in the event, with four of the last five C2 gold medals having now gone to Slovakian paddlers. The three previous golds were won by twins Peter and Pavol Hoschschorner between Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008, whose chances of adding to that haul were ended by the Skantars in the national trials. “We started when we were eight years old,” recalled Ladislav after the final. “From the beginning it was quite clear that we would do double canoeing. The first person who got us to start was actually my father. We come from a very small village and there were actually only two possibilities: to play football or go for double canoeing. We decided to go for this one and my father was always supportive.”
Summing up his second silver in four years, Hounslow said: “It would have been great for one or both of those silvers to have been gold, but I was so close both times to gold medals and so close to nothing. So I am really proud of my achievements and really proud of winning two silver medals.” Sharing his views after an exciting final that did much to strengthen the event’s case for remaining on the Olympic programme, Péché said: “Even though we came here for gold, we’re going to savour this bronze. When we sit back and take a look at everything we’ve done to get here, this medal is going to feel like a gold.”