Scot rides crest of a whitewater wave after paddling his way to silver

IF HIS intended career as an astronaut does not work out, David Florence need not be too downhearted.

The Edinburgh canoeist yesterday became the first Scot to take to the podium at the Olympic Games in China.

Days after celebrating his 26th birthday – on the Chinese lucky date of 08/08/08 – he expertly navigated the Shunyi whitewater course to take the silver medal. "I would have loved the gold, but I ended up with silver. A medal is what I have been after for the last four years," he said.

The medal marks the culmination of a journey that began in the mid-1990s when his uncle took a canoe on a family outing to the beach at Seacliff, near Tantallon Castle in East Lothian.

David's father, George, said: "I'd had a canoe at the side of the house for his entire life and he never even asked what it was doing there. But we'd turned up at the beach with his uncle, who had two canoes on the roof of the car. He and (his brother] asked their uncle for a shot of the canoe, got in the sea, and said they really liked it."

Within a year, David, whose family moved from Aberdeen to Edinburgh when he was seven, entered his first slalom race.

He capsized and came last, but, undeterred, he switched from kayak to the Canadian canoe, in which competitors power the boat with a single blade as they kneel, and joined the Forth Canoe Club.

Aged 17, he went to Nottingham University to study mathematical physics, but also so that he might make use of the city's National Watersports Centre.

Despite his sporting prowess, he has been looking further afield for possible future careers.

He was recently among 10,000 people who replied to a European Space Agency advertisement for astronauts. His application was unsuccessful, but as he basks in acclaim in Beijing, he can rest assured that he has already reached the stars.

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