McKeever strikes gold for Britain in "Twenty20" kayak sprint
Saturday, 11 August 2012
August 11 – The last raceday at Eton Dorney was a fruitful one for the host nation, with British canoeists taking two medals, including gold for Ed McKeever in the 200 metres kayak single.
New at the Olympics, the 200m events offer another example of a sport showcasing a condensed format to maximise excitement, much as cricket has done with Twenty20.
McKeever's race lasted well under 40 seconds, and with less than one second covering the first seven finishers, margins between success and failure are extremely fine.
Although it was bathed in sunshine, a stiff breeze was blowing across the course – which was actually shorter than the Eton Dorney grandstands – as the racers assembled.
This might have unsettled the lightweight McKeever (pictured top), although you would never have guessed it.
"I was really just focused on the first two or three strokes," the British paddler recalled after what was a clear-cut victory.
"I was out clean and just hung on.
"The main emotion was probably relief."
British Prime Minister David Cameron was on hand to witness the ice-cool performance from a man who had gone into the race as the joint favourite.
The silver medal went to Saul Craviotto Rivero of Spain, with Canada's Mark de Jonge taking bronze.
One of the more striking sights was the difference in stature between the 6ft 4in, 205lb Craviotto Rivero and the 5ft 8in, 174lb McKeever when standing side by side on the victory podium.
"It is one of those sports that takes all shapes and sizes," McKeever, a fan of Bath rugby club, explained.
While my knowledge of the physics of sprint canoeing is negligible, it seems extraordinary that the Briton could power his boat through the water faster than an athlete who is so much bigger.
The other British medal came in the men's 200m kayak double, a race won by the Russian team of Yury Postrigay and Alexander Dyachenko.
In a photo-finish for second place, the Belarus pair of Raman Piatrushenka and Vadzim Makhneu edged out Liam Heath and Jon Schofield from the host nation.
It is part of the lot of Olympic canoeists that they have little downtime at the Games, their events taking place once the rowing has finished in the final days of competition.
"I haven't actually seen any other sports," McKeever conceded.
For him and the other canoeing medallists, this sacrifice has been well worthwhile.