Peter Kauzer has been competing at the very top of kayaking for more than a decade. In love with his sport, the K1 Rio 2016 silver medallist gives us an insight into the Zen art of paddling, his desire to share a car with the world’s fastest rally drivers and his dubious major-event ritual.
What does paddling mean to you?
For me, paddling on the white water is like a ballet. Everything must be smooth and reactive. If I get this feeling even now and I come to the finish line and I haven’t won, I am still happy. It puts a smile on my face and it is the reason I am still paddling. I am searching for that perfect run, which will never happen but I try to get as close as possible.
Well, it looks like that… When I think back to my previous Olympic Games now, I knew I was capable of winning in Beijing – I was first in the qualifiers – and then in the semi-finals I had some bad luck. In London it was a different story. I was one of the favourites, the current world champion, so my goal was simple – to win the only title that was missing in my career. It put a bit more pressure on and I messed up my final run.
Before Rio, I wasn’t one of the favourites but I knew I was capable of winning. But it’s one race every four years, we only have one shot at it and every single piece of the puzzle must come together, so I accepted my failure at the previous Olympics, said to myself, ‘OK, life will still go on, the world will still spin, I have a beautiful daughter and wife’. And I just went there to show what I could do and it paid off.
Watch the Rio 2016 final highlights
You learned to be pragmatic?
I learned that, whatever you do on the day, it is the maximum you are able to achieve that day. If you didn’t win, you weren’t capable of winning. It is easy to say but harder to do.
What are the advantages of being one of the most experienced paddlers in the world?
I learned how to read the water when I was very young. I am sort of the old school of paddling. I paddle all over Slovenia; we have millions of options and if you lock that experience in your mind, you know how to read the water.
A few years ago, I was speaking with the London  Olympic champion, Daniele Molmenti, from Italy, and he was explaining to me that when he paddles, he doesn’t look at the water, he just goes as hard as possible down the wave, but he had watched me and I was always looking around, my eyes going left-right-left-right. I am always looking for the best line.
Do you still go out and ride the wild rivers of Slovenia just for fun?
I do. I don’t do extreme kayaking – I will save that for later – but I love to go paddling on the Soča river. My wife comes from that part of Slovenia so we go there, I take my boat and just do free paddling on the river, without gates. I just watch nature and am at one with the water. It’s a Zen moment for me.
Your dad has been your coach since the very beginning. How do you describe your relationship?
I think he will be my coach until the end of my career. We have a special relationship. We have experienced a lot together. After so many years, he is a back-up on the bank. If I have some problems I know he will be there. He knows everything I do. But if I don’t need him he doesn’t interfere. He leaves me be. I know if I need him he will be there and will know what to say to me.
Do you have any particular rituals on or before the start line?
The only ritual I have is that I wear the same pair of underwear that I wore when I won my first medal at a major event, in 2005. They are 13 years old, but I just wear them for the important races, the big finals – two or three times a year. For all the other races, I wear different ones, new ones.
You have travelled all over the world; where is the strangest place you have paddled?
The most unusual place was when we shot a promo video before the European Championships in Bratislava in 2010 and I paddled in a fountain in the city. My dad had the idea, and we did it. People were walking past and they were looking like, ‘What the hell are you doing there?’. Apparently, I am the only one who has got to paddle in that fountain.
You surf and snowboard as well. Is it the adrenaline rush you love?
I just love outdoor sports. I hate it if I have to be inside. Even now, after so many years, I still hate doing gym sessions. I just want to be outside. I have tried almost all sports that are available in Slovenia. In kayaking, you are always in contact with nature. Even with artificial courses, you are out there, whether it’s good weather, bad weather.
Are there any other sports you still have your eye on?
My long-term goal is to be in a car with one of the world’s best rally car drivers and see how fast they take the corners.
I was lucky that I flew with a Slovenian pilot who does the air races. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We came close to 8G. It was pretty stressful on the mind and body but so much fun as well. I was suffering badly at the end, but it was worth it.