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“I Feel at Home in My Boat Again”

“I Feel at Home in My Boat Again”

Champion kayaker Adam van Koeverden first captured the world’s attention at the 2004 Olympic Games, where he was a double medalist with gold and bronze victories. Since then, he has continued to dominate the sport, taking silver at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, earning two World Championship titles in 2007 and 2011, and being named “Canada’s Athlete of the Year” in 2012. Adam shares his story of personal success—infusing it with insight that he’s gained both on the water and off—and how it integrates with strong leadership, overcoming challenges, and the importance of teamwork. Tomorrow, Adam races in a “do or die” Olympic qualifer, and The National Post talked to him about how he feels going in:

Adam van Koeverden looked nothing like his usual dominant self at the 2015 Pan Am Games on home waters in Welland, Ont.

The three-time world champion faded badly on the homestretch and crossed the finish line third in his signature distance, the men’s K1 1,000 metres.

“I don’t think my body is 33,” the Burlington, Ont. native told Postmedia at the end of the race. “I think my body’s starting to feel older than 33.”

The chances of the three-time Olympian qualifying for Rio looked as improbable as Donald Trump’s quest to win the Republican nomination for president. My, how things change.

Now 34, van Koeverden is navigating unchartered waters by taking the long route to Rio. On Friday, the two-time world champion must win the 1,000-metre Pan Am continental qualifier at Lake Lanier, the Olympic venue for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Anything less than first place, and his Olympic dream is done — not that he’s panicking or anything. In fact, the man with a street named after him in Oakville exudes a quiet confidence heading into the sudden-death event.

“Right now, this is the best I’ve paddled – and not just according to me but all sources – since my final day in London,” says van Koeverden, who won two races against a field of Canadian competitors two weeks ago to advance to the continental event. “I feel at home in my boat again, which is great.”

That wasn’t the case at the Pan Am Games.

“It was very painful,” says van Koeverden, the winner of four Olympic medals, including gold at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. “I was dealing with some health issues that I won’t get into. It wasn’t an injury, but I dealt with a lot last summer.”

In reality, van Koeverden has dealt with a lot since winning silver at the 2012 London Games in the K1 1,000-metre race. Not content with the status quo, he opted to change things up in pursuit of a new goal – representing Canada in the four-man kayak.

“I’m a firm believer that if you do what you’ve always done you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got,” he says. “And that wasn’t enough for me. It’s every country’s goal to race a big boat at the Olympics. It’s prestigious. It’s a very repetitive sport, you know? We just go left, right, left, right, left, right for 10,000 strokes a day. If you’re doing it the way you always have, it can get monotonous.”

Canada fell short in a bid to qualify the big boat at the 2015 world championships, so van Koeverden return his focus to the 1,000 metres.

He balks at the suggestion age might conspire against him – especially considering Norway’s Eirik Veras Larsen won gold at the London Games.

“I believe he was 36 that day,” van Koeverden says. “I’m still in my 30s. I’m not an old man. I went to Athens as a very young man. So I’m not over the hill yet and this is what I love to do.

“I don’t have an artistic form of impression other than my sport. So I paddle 100 hours a month and take 10,000 strokes a day and I try to make something that makes me happy and pushes the boundary of a really obscure sport. Maybe in 100 years if people are still looking at sport, then my name will be among the best kayakers there were.”

At this moment, Mark de Jonge, the reigning world champion in the K1 200 metres, is considered the best kayaker in Canada and a gold-medal favourite for Rio.
“I’m going in – potentially, if I qualify – as an underdog or a dark horse,” van Koeverden says. “It’s very different.”

Not that he’s complaining about life outside the limelight for a change.

“I’ll let Mark de Jonge be the guy with the target on his back.”

Viki Hall/National Post/May, 2016