Beijing Brief: Van Koeverden Wins Canada’s 18th Medal

Power kayaker Adam van Koeverden, the 2008 flag bearer for Canada, showed his fine form on Saturday by winning silver in the K-1 500 metres. With pressure on his shoulders, the Oakville, Ontario native proved resilient in recovering from an earlier disappointment to capture Canada’s 18th medal of the Games.

The country was close to several others on its final day of competition, with three fourth-place finishes in synchronized swimming, athletics and cycling. With all competition completed for Canada at the 2008 Olympic Games, 18 medals is what will be etched in the record books. That is six more than Athens in 2004 and matches the third-best total ever for Canada (Barcelona, 1992) at a summer Games.

The Final Medal

Van Koeverden, an Olympic and world champion kayaker in the K-1 500 m, faced heavy pressure heading into the final. On Friday, he faded late in the K-1 1,000 m race to finish eighth, well back of his expectations. The kayaker is used to finishing first or second in the event, winning race after race on the World Cup circuit, and had to recover to set his sights on his second kayak final.

A restless sleep didn’t help, caused by ruminations over what went wrong in the K-1 1,000 m. But on the waters of the Shunyi Park in Beijing, when the race started, van Koeverden refocused and powered to the finish line. All doubts were put to bed. While gold went to Australian Ken Wallace with a time of 1:37.252, silver went to van Koeverden, who finished close at 1:37.671. He held off Britain’s strong kayaker, Tim Brabants, who settled for bronze.

When the race concluded, Canada had its last medal, No. 18, which can be considered nothing but a very successful result. It is second to the 22 medals from Atlanta in 1996 for any non-boycotted Summer Games. In all, Canada won three gold, nine silver and six bronze medals.

In addition, Canadian athletes just missed the podium many times in Beijing, with a bounty of fourth-place finishes. Day 15 was no exception.

Mountain Biker Pendrel Fourth

On a hot, clear day in Beijing, the mountain bike races were held on the challenging, 4.5 km Laoshan course. After six laps through the forest trail, Catharine Pendrel of Kamloops, B.C. won fourth.

Her time of one hour, 46 minutes, 37 seconds was a slim nine seconds behind the Russian rider Irina Kalentyeva who won bronze. Her opponent made a late charge on the final climb to pass Pendrel, who had a good shot at the bronze. Nevertheless, it was a strong result for the 27-year-old cyclist.

“I rode well today,” Pendrel said. “It was exciting to be up there. I feel like I belong up there. So I’m just going have to come back next time and get the job done.”

Canadian Marie-Hélène Prémont, a medal favourite in the race, was forced to withdraw from the event. She is a silver medallist from the 2004 Olympic Games and had reached the podium six times in World Cup races this year. But her race on Saturday did not go according to plan.

When a rider in front of Prémont fell, the Chateau-Richer, Que. native had to pull to a stop. When she shifted back into gear, Prémont said her heart rate had risen and she had difficulty breathing. When she couldn’t catch her breath after several attempts, she pulled to the side of the track and left the race.

Also in mountain bike action was Victoria’s Geoff Kabush and Seamus McGrath in the men’s cross-country race. Both experienced wheel problems, with Kabush finishing 20th and McGrath 44th. “I needed a perfect race and it did not happen,” Kabush said. “I had a few mechanical problems early on, but I just kept fighting.”

Reed Fourth in 800 m

Just 0.12 seconds separated Gary Reed of Kamloops, B.C. from a bronze medal in Saturday’s 800 m final. He had a strong second-half of the race, coming from the back of the pack to challenge for a spot on the podium. He passed several runners to close the gap in the last 50 metres.

Despite missing bronze, Reed’s fourth-place result is one of Canada’s best in the last 50 years in the event. Reed owns the Canadian record in 800 m, and is sixth-fastest in the world.

“Fourth is a tough place to finish, he said. “I got in a little trouble in the corner; I was stuck inside and could not get out. At the end of the day, I have to be happy with the finish and the 10-year process to get here.”

Also in athletics, Scott Russell of Windsor, Ont. competed in the javelin final. His best throw of 80.9 m was good for 10th place overall. He was suffering some injuries at the 2008 Olympic Games. “My body let me get to the finals, I knew I only had one good throw in me early and then things started to break down on me. On the third throw, my knee said that’s it, you’re not planting on me anymore.”

Great Result for Synchro Team

The women’s synchronized swimming team took a “huge step forward,” according to coach Julie Sauve. They finished fourth overall at the Olympic Games, moving past Japan and the United States in the standings.

“We have been aiming for this since 2001 and for many girls on this team, this is their gold medal,” Sauve said.

Montreal’s Marie-Pierre Gagne said: “This is fantastic! Our team has worked so hard preparing for these games and to get this result here tells us that we’re finally there. Being one step up in ranking and beating the Americans proves to us that our country has greatly improved. I’m so proud to be part of this team.”

In Other Action

Two Canadian canoe-kayak duos competed in the finals on Saturday. In the men’s K-2 500 m, Richard Dober Jr. and Andrew Willows finished sixth with a time of 30.857 seconds. In the men’s C-2 500 m, Andrew Russell and Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny finished a strong fifth in 1:42.450 seconds. Both are good results for the paddlers.

In diving semifinals, Victoria’s Riley McCormick and Reuben Ross of Pilot Butte, Sask. couldn’t quite advance to the final. Ross finished 17th and McCormick finished 16th.

Said McCormick: “Getting that experience in front of the loud crowd, the Olympic atmosphere and all the experience of competing at the Olympics will help me get ready for 2012.”

Said Ross: “I’m disappointed not to go into finals tonight. I got a lot experience here and I’ll go back home and work hard. I’ll keep good memories of my first Olympic experience.”