An Olympic title is the pinnacle of most sporting disciplines. If you’re the Olympic champion at your event and you go to the next Olympics, you’re going to want to defend your crown.
So if you go to an Olympics as the reigning double Olympic champion, as Tony Estanguet did when he sought to secure an unprecedented hat-trick in the C-1 canoeing class in Beijing, you really, really aren’t going to feel good losing that title. Oh, and you’ve been selected as your nation’s flag bearer, such is the enormity of what you are attempting to achieve.
Imagine Estanguet’s pain, then, when he didn’t even make the final of the Beijing event, forced to watch from the sidelines as his long-time rival, Slovakian Michal Martikan, took gold.
This time around, with Martikan’s reputation even stronger, David Florence on home soil (well, water) and Ander Elosegi and Stanislav Jezek, who were fourth and fifth at Beijing, surely aiming to improve, Estanguet faced a mountainous challenge to reclaim the title he had first claimed at Sydney in 2000.
For Estanguet, whose father Henri was a canoeist and whose brother Patrice won bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Games – in which Martikan claimed the first of his two golds to date – there was a feeling that this could be the last time the 34-year-old would appear at an Olympics. Having finished an agonizing ninth in 2008 and well adrift of the medals, Tony was under pressure to revive his reputation in Tuesday’s final two rounds.
That he did so in spellbinding fashion, going third fastest in the semi finals before smashing his competitors in the final run, pays tribute to the spirit of a true Olympic champion.
Estanguet’s final run was set before several other canoeists went down the course, but neither Martikan nor silver medallist Sideris Tasiadis, of Germany, could touch his time. Florence, in the end, never made the final eight, and spare a thought for Elosegi and Jezek – the unfortunate pair repeated their respective fourth- and fifth-placed finishes.
In what is likely to be his final Olympics, Estanguet has recovered his game, rebuilt his reputation and, now a triple Olympic champion, he has confirmed his legacy as one of the greatest names in modern canoeing.
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