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Tony Estanguet is the only whitewater canoeist to successfully defend his Olympic title. The Slalom canoeist topped the podium in the C-1 category at all but one of his four Olympic Games, becoming the only French athlete in history to win gold in three separate editions.
Tony Estanguet was not the first member of his family to finish on the Olympic podium in the individual canoe slalom (C-1). At Atlanta 1996, his younger brother Patrice won bronze in the event. However, four years later Tony edged ahead of his sibling during the Olympic trials to take his place in Sydney. It was a moment of mixed emotions, and the start of an Olympic odyssey that would span three decades.
Estanguet was not the favourite going into the 2000 Games. However, in his first run in the final, he managed to complete a penalty-free descent to open up a significant lead over the man who was - the reigning Olympic champion Michal Martikan of Slovakia. The Slovak struck back in his second run, finishing faster than the French pretender, but Estanguet still did enough to claim the gold. It marked the start of an epic rivalry between the two canoeists that would span several Olympic Games and World Championships.
At Athens 2004, Estanguet qualified for the final slightly slower than Martikan in the preliminary heats. However, in his second run in the final, he completed a perfect descent, to put the pressure firmly back on the Slovak, who recorded a single penalty, allowing Estanguet to retain his title by a margin of 0.12 points.
At Beijing 2008, Estanguet was chosen to carry the French flag during the Opening Ceremony, as he went in search of a third consecutive gold. Unfortunately, once on the water, he was unable to find his rhythm. Lying sixth after the preliminary heats, he finished ninth in the semi-finals and failed to make the cut for the final, opening the way for Martikan to claim gold.
After winning his second and third world titles at Seu d’Urgell (ESP) in 2009 and Tacen (SLV) in 2010, Estanguet, now 34, made it through the Olympic qualifying trials for the fourth time in a row. At the Lee Valley White Water Centre, the venue for the canoe and kayak events at London 2012, he showed age had not diminished his prowess in the slightest, recording another penalty-free run in the final to become the only French athlete to win Olympic gold at three different editions of the Games. After hanging up his paddle following his London triumph, he was elected to sit on the IOC’s Athlete’s Commission.