First kayak gold is reward for doctor with patience
Saturday 23 August 2008
Step forward the Putney Chiropractic Centre, Thule roof racks, Merrell outdoor footwear and Southern Alps slow-dried fruit snacks and cereals. When you are a canoeist you find sponsors wherever you can, but Tim Brabants rewarded his backers here yesterday with Britain's first Olympic gold medal in the sport.
The 31-year-old doctor from Walton-on-Thames won the 1,000 metres kayak single final on Lake Shunyi in front of a crowd that included Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It was the culmination of Brabants' 21 years of dedication to his sport and vindication of his decision to carry on after finishing fifth in the Olympic final four years ago, having won a bronze in 2000.
Brabants, who will go for a second gold in today's 500m final, has been racing ever since his mother took him to an introductory canoeing course in Surrey during the school summer holidays and his only regret was that she was not here to witness his finest moment, having died of leukemia three years ago.
"She was a great supporter of me and came to Sydney and Athens and I know she would have loved to have been here," he said. "It's a big emotional moment for my Dad, who's out here watching me fulfil a dream. He had tears in his eyes. I know how hard it is for him and for all of us."
From the moment Brabants' paddle hit the water you sensed there was never going to be another winner. Others looked more stylish and appeared to slide across the surface with less effort, but Brabants, his arms whirring as he dug into the water like a man possessed, raced with the conviction of someone who knew he would get to the finish line first.
The Canadian Adam van Koeverden tried to stay with Brabants for the first 500m, but the Briton was leading by more than half a second at the halfway stage and was a full kayak-length clear at the 750m mark. Norway's Erik Larsen, the 2004 champion, finished strongly, but Brabants crossed the line more than a second in front. Australia's Ken Wallace took the bronze.
Paying tribute to Eric Farrell, his coach for the last 15 years, Brabants said: "That was exactly the race plan we wanted. We've been working all year on how to race an Olympic final. In the first two strokes there was no doubt I was going to win the race. No one was going to come past me. I felt fantastic. I know it's easy to say when I won, but right from the start line I was going to win the race.
"Four years ago I had unfinished business. I was good four years ago, but I wasn't this good. The guys at the last Olympics deserved to get those medals, but the times when you're absolutely falling to pieces in training is what this is for and what it has resulted in."
Brabants, who was junior world champion 13 years ago, graduated with a medical degree from Nottingham University in 2002 but with Lottery funding was able to concentrate on his canoeing career in the build-up to Athens.
He took an 18-month break from competition after the 2004 Games and went back to work during that period, most recently as a house doctor in the Accident and Emergency department of Jersey General Hospital. However, the temptation to have another crack at the Olympics proved too great and in 2006 he returned to competition, winning gold at the European Championships and silver at the World Championships.
In 2007 he became Britain's first canoeing world champion for 20 years and his hopes of adding Olympic gold rose when he won the test event here at both 500m and 1,000m.
The longer event is Brabants' speciality, but he will go for broke in search of another medal today. "The 500m is relatively new for me and it's not my strongest," he said. "But today's result will motivate me. I'm very strong and going well, though there is very little room for error in 500m. The guys out there are much more talented. I'm in an outside lane unfortunately, so most of the racing will happen in the middle. I'll have to race my own race."
The thought of competing at the 2012 London Olympics is a big temptation to Brabants as he looks ahead. "I've had a great season and to finish it up with the most enjoyable race I've ever had is fantastic," he said. "When you realise that you have crossed the line first you don't feel tired. London is definitely on the cards now. Don't be surprised to see me in London ready to represent Great Britain again."
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