Florence masters raging waters to claim canoeing silver medal

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

David Florence reached for the stars but found heaven on earth. Having failed in a recent attempt to become an astronaut, the 26-year-old mathematical physics graduate from Aberdeen was left to concentrate on his sporting career and his dedication was rewarded when he won a silver medal in the canoe slalom event here at Shunyi Olympic Park yesterday.

On a day when his room-mate and fellow Scot, Campbell Walsh, a silver medallist four years ago, failed to reach the kayak slalom final, Florence might even have gone one better. He was in first until the last moment, only to see Slovakia's Michal Martikan snatch the gold in the final run.

"I would have loved the gold, but just winning a medal here has been my goal for the last four years," Florence said. "I'm certainly not disappointed. I'm absolutely delighted. This really is a dream come true. It's been a long, long time coming and means everything to me."

In slalom racing, with the waters raging around you, one tiny mistake can be crucial. The 250m Shunyi course, which drops by seven metres between the start and finish, is especially tough. Using a combination of strength and control, the competitors negotiate a series of gates as 5,000 gallons of water per second are pumped through the artificial rapids.

The early section was particularly treacherous and did for Walsh, who never recovered after having to turn back when he missed a gate. Florence qualified by finishing fourth in his semi-final, though he would have been fastest had he not hit an early gate and incurred a time penalty. The finalists competed in reverse order, with the eighth-fastest qualifier going first. Their final and semi-final times were added together to produce the end result.

The first three finalists all made mistakes, but the fourth, Australia's Robin Bell, set the fastest time so far by one and a half seconds. Florence was next and paddled superbly, attacking the final part of the course to beat Bell by nearly two seconds. Finalist No 6, Poland's Krzysztof Bieryt, had a nightmare run and finished more than 21 seconds adrift, ensuring Florence would win at least a bronze, and when the Czech Republic's Stanislav Jezek hit an early gate the Scot knew he had silver in the bank. The last man out, however, was Martikan, the champion in 1996, runner-up in 2000 and 2004 and the fastest man in qualifying and the semi-final. His mastery was evident as he beat Florence's time by 1.96sec.

"It was nerve-racking watching the last three guys, but I was happy," Florence said. "I'd done a good run and in the end that's all you can do. It was my first Olympic final, which is the most exciting and probably the hardest event I'll ever take part in."

Florence, who celebrated his 26th birthday on the day of the opening ceremony, clearly likes a challenge, as was shown when he answered an advert from the European Space Agency seeking four astronauts. "It wasn't a whim," he insisted. "It was an opportunity to apply to do something incredible."

The application form asked whether he could speak Russian, which prompted Florence to start learning it immediately. For the last 18 months, with the Olympics in mind, he has also been learning Mandarin.

Like 10,000 others, Florence had his application rejected. "I was disappointed for him but I have to admit I was quite worried about the idea of him going into space," his mother, Jill, said yesterday, having watched the final in the stands with her husband George, daughter Lyndsey and other son Fraser. She added: "When he decides he is going to do something he works hard at it. He likes to do something else that is mental to balance the training."

George has been David's rowing inspiration – the son sought out the father's advice between his two runs yesterday – though he did not tell him until he was a teenager that he had been Scottish champion.

Florence trained in Edinburgh until he was 17 and chose Nottingham University, as did Walsh and Florence's brother and sister, because of its proximity to the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont. He has been based there ever since and is now a full-time Lottery-funded canoeist, though he also finds time to ski and play the bagpipes.

A turning point in Florence's career came four years ago, when he started working with a sports psychologist, Hugh Mantle, after failing to qualify for the Athens Olympics.

"It used to be the case that everything had to be perfect for David and if something went wrong his head went down," Mark Delaney, Florence's coach, said. "Today he hit gate three but he didn't let his head drop, which he might have done in the past."

Walsh, who shares a room with Florence and studied the same subject at Nottingham University, was philosophical after finishing last of the 15 semi-finalists in the kayak event, which was won by Germany's Alexander Grimm.

"I'm disappointed but I feel I did myself proud with the way I went into the race," the European champion said. "I attacked it with a winning attitude, but sometimes mistakes happen. I feel frustrated because these opportunities don't come around very often, but I feel lucky enough to have got an Olympic medal already."

Britain won three canoeing medals in Athens and there are hopes of more success here. Walsh, 30, and Florence also have their eyes on glory in 2012. "I'd be very surprised if I'm not going for a place in the London Olympics," Florence said.

Actor Burt Reynolds last year
peopleBurt Reynolds, once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, is set to auction his memorabilia
Gordon and Tana Ramsay arrive at the High Court, London
newsTV chef gives evidence against his father-in-law in court case

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game