London 2012 Olympics: Rapid end to hopes of Scottish canoeist David Florence
WE came here with hugely fanciful notions in our heads that David Florence might – just might – be the one to put gold on the board for Team GB, the first winner, the champion to kick these Olympic Games into overdrive for the home team.
The dreaming lasted precisely 106.16 seconds – the time it took (including penalties) for Florence, world No 1 and cheered to the skies here at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, to crash out of the canoe singles in a painful semi-final.
As soon as Florence came slaloming his way through the second split the distress signals were practically rocketing from his canoe. He was more than two seconds behind the time set by the leader but, more than that, he was well down on many others too. Of the eight paddlers who’d completed their run, Florence was lying sixth. Only eight qualified for the final.
The problem was that the fastest guys in the heats from Sunday were yet to come. Sideris Tasiadis of Germany, tenth in the world and European champion, went next and went faster. That was Florence down to seventh. Takuya Haneda went after Tasiadis and the Japanese who finished 18th to Florence’s second at the Beijing Olympics was faster, too. Florence was eighth now, right on the bubble of the cut. Next to go, the Slovenian, Benjamin Savsek, fully 17 places behind Florence in the world rankings, but as it turned out, more than six seconds faster than the Scot. That was it, the killer blow. Florence was 10th of 12 in the semi-final; a crushing disappointment.
“I didn’t put in a good enough run,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I took a touch on the bottom gate, didn’t quite thread my bows in between the balls and just caught it as I was going under the gate. It was probably a costly two-second penalty but there were quite a few bits of the run that didn’t quite go along the right lines. It didn’t go my way. It has been the race I wanted to perform at for the last four years and to have not done it is a big disappointment. But I don’t think I would have changed a thing about the way I’ve trained, prepared and approached it. Sometimes, that’s just canoe slalom. I didn’t have a disastrous run, but it wasn’t good enough. Consistently, the whole way down, I was just a little bit off it and it all added up to being a long, long way off the pace.”
This was dispiriting stuff, but it was great theatre, too. The slalom run is spectacular as is the crowd who have bought into it in every sense; financially and emotionally. It measures 300m descending 5.5m from start to finish. Water is pumped down the course at a speed of 3,300 gallons per second and lining the route are packed grandstands, the vast majority of the crowd roaring for Florence. “You put so much into it, it’d be very unnatural not to be very disappointed and, of course, I am, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s done. Fair play to the guys who beat me to get into the top eight for the final. I’ve had three runs and two of them haven’t quite been there.”
Did the pressure and expectation get to him? Who’s to know? Florence was shaky in qualifying but his form this year has been excellent, top of the tree ahead of the storied Frenchman, Tony Estanguet, winner of the gold at the Sydney and Athens Games and winner again here, a triple champion and now the greatest of all time, and the equally celebrated Slovak, Michal Martikan, imperious at the Atlanta and Beijing Games who had to settle for bronze yesterday.
Florence was so out-of-sorts that you searched for reasons why that might have been. Did the love of the crowd work against him in some bizarre way? No, he smiled. “There was no detrimental effect to my performance from the crowd support. I just didn’t put in a good enough run when I needed to. The crowd have been absolutely fantastic. To come away and say it’s the crowd’s fault that I didn’t perform, you won’t hear me say that. The support has been amazing and I’m sorry for them. For the last four years this is what I’ve wanted to achieve. It’s what every day of my life has been about. But in a sport like canoe slalom you get so used to massive highs and also massive disappointments. Any of the athletes in that field, no matter how good or how bad, has had huge disappointments and it’s a part of the sport you have to accept. I did everything I could.”
Florence now has to regroup ahead of Thursday’s C2 with his partner, Richard Hounslow. “I’m well practised at moving on. Sometimes I’ve had great success in the C1 and had to move on in the C2. Other times I’ve had huge disappointments and had to move on as little as 20 minutes to do a final C2 run. I’ve two days to regroup before going out in the C2. That’s not an issue. Most people wouldn’t normally have another chance. I’m lucky I do and I’ll be giving it my absolute best. It would be very silly to let a huge disappointment like this today to affect what is another fantastic opportunity.”
He needs to find his best stuff again – and quickly.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West