Slalom Canoeing: David Florence pairs up with Richard Hounslow to repair canoeing machine


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The Independent Online

David Florence is the quieter one and Richard Hounslow the more outgoing of the pair who provide Great Britain with a genuine gold medal aspirations in the two-man canoe event today. There's also the fact that Hounslow, left out of Britain's Beijing Olympics contingent and deeply disillusioned, might have given the sport up for Sandhurst had not Florence suggested that they pair up.

That forms the kind of bond that not even the legendary Hochschorner twins, Pavol and Peter, can say they share as the Slovaks chase their fourth successive canoe C2 medal today.

Ahead of them all is the notorious stretch of water they call "Ben Nevis" – the second of two sheer drops which make the approach to the 18th and 19th gates so treacherous. The water is also "big", with its force on this course at the high end of the canoeists' expectation. It was the 19th gate that Hounslow hit yesterday, incurring a two-second penalty as he failed to make a one-man kayak final won by the Italian Daniele Molmenti, who ended the afternoon euphorically thumping his canoe in the sunshine.

So Hounslow and Florence both have disappointments from one-man competition to put aside. Hounslow was initially agitated yesterday when adjudged to have touched Gate 19 – "I didn't know I hit it. Apparently I hit it with my back. I don't know," he said – and 30 minutes after competing he was still fairly inconsolable. "I've been kayaking all my life. You have people walking up to you saying 'Unlucky!' but it's not lucky. You just didn't paddle well enough and it doesn't really matter what anyone says." His time of 104.30sec placed him 12th in the semi-final and outside the top 10 qualifying places for the final.

He will put his despair away, of course. "When you get on the start-line up there, everything goes out of your head anyway," he said. But as Hounslow discussed the supreme technical disciplines of this sport, the noise from those who will roar the Britons on today sounded more like a hindrance than a help.

"It's tough out there, the crowd's loud, you've got to deal with the pressure that comes along with it," he said. "You've got to imagine what it's like. In swimming and running it's much less technical and the crowd buoys you on, and you can just attack it and go for it. This sport is so much more technical that you can't use that noise and intensity that the crowd are showing because if you go too hard it all goes wrong. There's a very fine balance between attacking a course and not attacking it enough. You've just got to keep control."

This pair have history, winning this year's Cardiff Bay World Cup and finishing fourth in last year's world and European championships. But their world ranking of No 9 is actually below that of another British pair, Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott, who have rather gone under the radar because everyone likes to talk about "Florence the Machine" and his partner. But Baillie and Stott are equally capable of gold in a deeply unpredictable sport, ripe for marginal yet crucial error. Lizzie Neave also has reason for hope in the women's kayak, on a potentially defining day for British canoeing.

"We're both professionals," Hounslow said. "We both know what we need to do and how we need to do it. Unfortunately we haven't done that over the past couple of days – but we will not let these results affect the way we approach and attack the racing."