Athens, Greece - Hungarian Natasa Janics became the new star of world canoeing after winning two Olympic gold medals within an hour of each other.
The 22 year old who has been overshadowed by teammate Katalin Kovaks since the Sydney Olympics, won the women’s 500m K1 gold in emphatic fashion before teaming up with Kovacs to take the 500m K2 gold as well.
'I can’t describe how happy I am right now', she said after wrapping up the second gold. 'I know that I trained very hard for this and I would have been sad if I had not won the gold medals. I have battled to get past Katalin (Kovaks) since Sydney, and I was very pleased to be able to win the gold for Hungary in the K2 with her', she added.
The final day of the flatwater racing programme was just as memorable for German Olympic legend Birgit Fischer. She took her tally of Olympic medals to nine, in a staggering career that spans 24 years, when she and partner Carolin Leonhardt won the silver medal in the 500m K2 final that was won by Janics and Kovaks.
Fischer was set to retire after the Sydney Olympics, where she won two golds in German crew boats. However she was persuaded to make a comeback, which was rewarded with a gold and a silver medal in Athens. 'At 42, you can’t ask for anything more that that! After all, I trained for 303 days for this, so I am not at all disappointed', she enthused modestly after winning the second medal.
Janics’ win in the women’s 500m K1 final as one of the most emphatic results of the flatwater racing programme. She blasted a massive lead by halfway, and won by two seconds from defending Olympic champ Josefa Idem of Italy.
Idem celebrated her silver medal with her sixteen month old daughter. 'It has been a very emotional time for me', she said. 'I trained until I was seven months pregnant, and started training again 21 days after my daughter was born', she said.
Australian Nathan Baggaley wrote his name in the Olympic record books in style on the final day, which was paddled in awkward, gusting winds, as he won two medals an hour apart. Baggaley and Clint Robinson were ecstatic to win the silver medal in the 500m men’s K2 race, after Baggaley had earlier won the silver in the 500m men’s K1 race. 'I am delighted because this proves that I can take part in three different events', said Baggaley.
The eagerly anticipated showdown for the men’s 500m K1 Olympic crown saw 22 year old Canadian Adam van Koeverden win the gold in a heartstopping final, in which he came from fourth going through the 250m mark to blitz the very powerful field in the end sprint.
The Olympic gold medal caps a meteoric rise to international stardom for the young athlete from Toronto, at the end of a season in which he has been the global men’s K1 pacesetter.
Van Koeverden romped home in a lightning fast sprint to win by more than half a second from Australian Nathan Baggaley, with gutsy British paddler Ian Wynne securing a brave third place. Wynne had to be assisted into his kayak, after badly spraining an ankle falling off a bus the night before the final. He paddled in pain with a heavily swollen and strapped ankle, but this did not detract from his focus and commitment, as he tore past Akos Vereckei and 500m K1 gold medallist Eirik Larsen to grab the medal for Great Britain.
Germany ended the flatwater competition at the top of the medal table, thanks to two gold and a silver medal on the final day of the competition. Reigning world champion Andreas Dittmer went one better than the silver he won in the men’s 500m C1 in Sydney, with a perfectly timed charge that edged him past runner-up Spaniard David Cal and Russian Maxin Opalev, who was the early pacesetter in the final.
In the next final, the German K2 crew of Ronald Rauhe and Tim Wieskoetter led from the gun to take the men’s 500m K2 gold from charging Australians Baggaley and Robinson.
The men’s 500m C2 final produced the closest race of the entire flatwater programme, as eight boats crossed the finish within nine-tenths of a second, with the first three being separated by 0,164 secs. The anxious paddlers had to wait while officials reviewed the photo-finish before awarding the gold medal to the deliriously happy Chinese crew of Meng Guanliang and Yang Wenjun.
It was China’s first Olympic medal, and reflects the rise of the Peoples Republic of China as a world force in canoeing and kayaking. Cuba’s Ibrahim Rojas Blanco and Ledis Frank Balceiro Pajon took the silver, with Russia’s Alexander Kostoglod and Alexander Kovalev in third. Forty-year-old Romanian Florin Popescu ended his paddling career with disappointment, missing out on a medal by a tenth of a second.
Ten minutes later, China nearly had a second medal, as their women’s 500m K2 crew of Xu Lingbei and Zhing Hongyan were edged into fourth in the fast finishing final won by Hungarians Kovaks and Janics.
Final medal table
1.Germany 7 (4G, 3S)
2. Hungary 6 (3G, 1S, 2B)
3. Canada 3 (1G, 2B)
4. Russia 3 (1S, 2 B)
5. Spain 2 (1G, 1S)
6. Norway 2 (1G, 1S)
7. Australia 2 (2S)
8. Italy 2 (2S)
9. China 1 (1G)
10. Sweden 1 (1G)
11. Cuba 1 (1S)
12. New Zealand 1 (1S)
13. Belarus 1 (1B)
14. Great Britain 1 (1B)
15. Poland 1 (1B)
16. Slovakia 1 (1B)
17. Ukraine 1 (1B)
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