Canoeing: Briton David Florence looking to go one better than Beijing and claim gold in today's final


To argue that any Olympic event is the most demanding, exhausting, or requires the most mastery is difficult. But there is a case to be made for canoe slalom, the mad single-paddled white-water descent, whose semi-final and final is this afternoon.

David Florence, the 29-year-old Scot who won the silver medal in Beijing, is one of 12 men who will be rushing down the 250 metre course, manoeuvring through the gates, trying to finish in the top eight to reach the final and win the medal from there.

While Florence already has an Olympic medal, he cannot be said to have seen it all before. Every canoe slalom course is different, and the mental challenge of learning every turn, gate and eddy during competition is inseparable from the physical challenge of moving the canoe around the course and through the 18 gates – six of them requiring the canoe to go upstream rather than down – as quickly as possible. Any gate hit means a two-second penalty, any gate missed means a prohibitive 50 seconds.

It is harder and less predictable than kayaking. While that provides a long two-bladed paddle, with the racer sitting down, canoeing gives only a short single blade, and must be done kneeling. This means that their weight is more central, making it easier to turn. And with a lighter bow than a kayak there is less speed in a straight line but more flexibility in different directions, which is the essence of the challenge.

“Getting a slalom C1 [single boat] to go where you want to go is pretty difficult when you first start,” Florence said. “There’s a huge amount of subtleties, of tiny little boat leans and boat edging and also the exact direction you’re pulling your paddle in. It takes a very long time to actually master it but when you do it’s amazing how well you can get the boat to go in a set direction with a lot of power even though you’re only paddling on one side.”

The course at the Lee Valley White Water Centre will certainly be difficult. Built specifically for this purpose, the 250 metre route descends 5.5metres from start to finish. Water is pumped down the course at a speed of 13,000 litres per second. The variable channels are made by moving the rapid blocks, big stone bricks which help direct the gradient and flow of the water. Florence describes it as a “fun place to race”, and he hopes it will provide him with as good memories as the course in Beijing.

Four years ago Florence came second in Beijing, losing only to the remarkably successful Slovak Michal Martikan, who won gold at the age of 17 in Atlanta – the first for independent Slovakia – before silver at Sydney and Athens. He is such a hero at home that he was given a presidential pardon in 2000 to avoid a prison sentence for manslaughter after killing a man while speeding. But Florence insists he is much stronger now.

“It’s a really different scenario,” Florence said. “For me that was four years ago. I’ve some many European competitions, I’ve done so much training and made so many improvements.” He is now ranked No 1 by the International Canoe Federation. As well as the individual campaign he has been competing too with Richard Hounslow in the pairs, the final for which are on Thursday, likely to be dominated by Pavol and Peter Hochschorner, the Slovakian twins who won gold in Sydney, Athens and Beijing.

But Florence’s focus today will be on the C1, and the hope that he might just upgrade his silver to gold. “I have never heard noise like that before,” he beamed after his successful heats. “The support was immense.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own