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?
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
A bartender serves beers
news
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
film
Life and Style
The finale at Dolce and Gabbana autumn/winter 2015
fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?