Kayaking: Walsh takes silver after timing error

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The Independent Online

Campbell Walsh could have won gold for Britain in the slalom kayaking yesterday but, by his own astonishing admission, eased up during his final descent because he misunderstood the on-course commentary and thought the top prize was already effectively his.

"I was prepared for the gold medal," the 26-year-old Glaswegian said. "I made some mistakes and I lost it. But the silver medal is also a big success."

In a further twist, the silver actually turned out to be better than Campbell had expected when the results first flashed up on the scoreboard. They showed he had finished in the bronze medal position behind two Frenchmen, Benoit Peschier and Fabien Lefevre. But Britain became involved in a medal-swapping fiasco for a third successive day - following rows in the equestrianism and swimming - when Walsh's bronze was upgraded due to the discovery of faulty timing devices.

Peschier, who took the gold with combined semi-final and final run times of 187.96sec, was unaffected by the confusing glitch. Lefevre, though, thought he had won silver when the scoreboard initially showed his time as faster than Campbell's. Yet after a gobbledygook explanation from the organisers - which was so bizarre that competitors and spectators alike were wondering if their brains had been frazzled in the scorching sun - Walsh's time was given as 190.17sec and Lefevre's as 190.99sec.

The official explanation was that Walsh's finish time was changed "due to water projection in the starting photocells just before the start", while Lefevre finished his run "under the automatic camera so his time was taken manually".

"I don't have a clue what went on there," Walsh said.

"I'm disappointed I didn't get the silver," Lefevre, the K1 world champion, said. "But I'm satisfied with my performance and with my timing."

"I can hardly realise that I won gold," Peschier said. "It's amazing. I was able to be precise, down to the centimetre, going through the course."

Walsh, an information technology Masters student ranked second in the world in his event, was candid in admitting he had misunderstood a crucial bit of information yesterday. "I thought I'd heard the commentator say I was in the lead coming up to the finish and I eased off, so I'm not happy with that," he said.

"I kind of thought I had it in the bag but it turns out I was nowhere near it so I'm a bit disappointed. The commentary doesn't distract me, I always try to listen to it. I know that I'm relaxed if I can hear it and I feel better when I'm relaxed."

Walsh started the final run as the overall leader after a penalty-free run in the semi-final. The pressure of being the last man down in the competition took its toll, however, to the delight of a throng of Tricolore-waving fans on the overlooking grassy banks.

"At gate five there's a big wave to go through and I hit that and got stopped," Walsh said. "I'm the lightest guy in the field so if I hit waves head-on like that then they tend to stop me more than the other guys. I thought I could still have gold but I didn't get it."

Walsh's medal was the second British canoeing prize here following Helen Reeves' bronze in the women's K1 on Wednesday. Despite high expectations for Stuart Bowman and Nick Smith in the C2 event, the duo failed to qualify for their final after a mistake-laden run in their semi-final. "Underachievement is the word really," said Smith, echoing a theme.