In 2014, Serghei Tarnovschi earned Moldova’s first-ever gold medal in an Olympic competition at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, and on Tuesday he graduated to the Olympic stage in style, claiming bronze in the men’s canoe sprint C1 1000m event at Rio 2016. We give the lowdown on the 19-year-old YOG athlete.
1. Tarnovschi was born in Ukraine in 1997, but has been competing for Moldova since 2014. He has an older brother, Oleg, who also races for Moldova in canoe sprint, and is competing over the shorter distance of 200m at Rio 2016.
2. Serghei began paddling in 2008, at the age of 10, and had a breakthrough year in 2014. After winning a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in Szeged (Hungary), he travelled to Nanjing where he went one better, winning gold in the boys’ C1 head-to-head sprint event. It was Moldova’s first gold medal in any Olympic competition.
3. A year later he made the step up to senior competition, and demonstrated his potential by winning a bronze medal at the 2015 ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships in Milan (Italy) in the men’s C1 1000m – earning qualification for the same event in Rio de Janeiro. He was named Moldovan Athlete of the Year for 2015 by the nation’s Youth and Sports Ministry in recognition of his achievements.
© Getty Images 4. If Tarnovschi was nervous ahead of his Olympic debut in Rio, he didn’t show it. He stormed to victory in his heat, finishing almost three seconds ahead of his nearest pursuer Gerasim Kochnev (UZB) to book an automatic place in the final. “It’s important for me [to win this race] as I want to be first every time,” he said afterwards.
5. In the final, Tarnovschi got off to a fast start and was leading at the first split. But the eight-boat field contained some top-class canoeists, and the Moldovan was overtaken by defending Olympic champion Sebastian Brendel, of Germany, and Brazil’s Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos. As the two pulled clear, Tarnovschi was involved in a close battle for third with Russia’s Ilia Shtokalov, but held on after a photo-finish. In doing so, he delivered Moldova’s first medal of Rio 2016.
6. After the event, which was won by five-time world champion Brendel, Tarnovschi reflected on a high-quality contest in the testing environment of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. “It was the hardest race of my life, ever,” said the teenager. “The wind was from the left and I stroke on the right side. It’s my first Olympic medal and I’m 19 years old. It’s a big moment for my life.” To make it even sweeter, Tarnovschi received his medal from France’s Tony Estanguet – an Olympic legend and three-time canoe slalom champion.
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