France’s Tony Estanguet delivered an emphatic riposte to critics today, scooping his third Olympic gold medal with a win in the men’s C1 at the Lee Valley whitewater centre. Estanguet’s victory sets the seal on a difficult year for the French paddler, who appeared to struggle even make the national team during the Olympic selection competitions earlier this year.
It was devastating news for Britain’s David Florence who could only manage 10th in the semi-final and was eliminated. The reigning World Champion and current number one ranked paddler in the world just couldn’t make up for a key error when he brushed a slalom gate and incurred a penalty. Journalists pointed out that he’d needed a good second run in the heats to qualify for the semi-finals.
Florence’s eventual time of 106.16 was the third slowest of the day. It was a bitter disappointment for the capacity crowd at Lee Valley which had been hoping for Britain’s first gold medal at this Olympic Games.
It was suggested that rather than spurring the canoeists on, the vociferous British crowd might have added to athletes’ nerves - Helen Reeves, the BCU’s media relations officer, told the BBC Sports News website: “”It’s a tough environment at Lee Valley with the home crowd and it’s something which the British athletes have never experienced before. He’s not saying it was nerves, but it must have had an effect.”
Florence, however, said afterwards: “This is the race I wanted to perform at for the past four years and I failed to do so. It would be easy to make the excuse of the pressure of the home crowd but the fact is canoe slalom is up and down.”
He goes again later this week in the C2 with Richard Hounslow who is competing tomorrow in the men’s K1. Florence won silver in Beijing and BBC commentator Jonathan Edwards said Hounslow was not expected to be in the medals while Florence’s elimination was the end of a genuine gold medal hope for Britain.
The margin on which races are won and lost in slalom can be tiny. Estanguet himself was the beneficiary in Athens 2004 when referees gave Michal Martikan a penalty, pushing him into second place, just 12 hundredths of a second behind the Frenchman. And in 2008 he lost out in a similar fashion.
In the end, today, it was Estanguet’s day again. Sideris Tasiadis of Germany took silver with two-time Olympic champion Martikan of Slovakia in bronze medal position.
There’s a write up with some photographs on the GB Canoeing website.