Past the podium
Slalom medalist David Florence relives Great Britain's Olympic paddling glory
PRAGUE, Czech Republic — With waves of whitewater crashing and sparkling in the London sunshine, amid a sea of Union Jack flags waving above as 12,000 rapturous fans vociferously cheered on the home nation, the events that transpired at the Lee Valley Whitewater Center seemed like something that only could have been scripted in Hollywood.
British tandem canoe duos David Florence and Richard Hounslow, and teammates Timothy Baillie and Etienne Stott delivered clutch performances in the Olympic C-2 final on August 2, adroitly paddling to silver and gold, respectively, doing so while carrying the hopes of a nation.
At this past weekend’s ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup in Prague, Florence spoke with Canoe & Kayak about the magical day for the UK.
“It was pretty incredible. It came down to that final run for me and Richard,” said Florence, who along with Hounslow, were the 6th and final boat to take to the Lee Valley course, their teammates Baillie and Stott sitting in the lead.
“We had not delivered in individual events where maybe we were expected to medal so the pressure was incredible,” said the 30-year-old British canoeist who grew up paddling on a canal in Edinburgh, Scotland. “When we crossed that line in the C-2 and I looked up and saw that we were in the top three, what a relief that we had a won a medal at the home games in London.”
Florence and Hounslow completed the 25-gate, 300-meter course in 106.77, 0.36 slower than gold medalists Baillie and Stott. The Olympic medals were Britain’s first in canoe doubles since the event was first contested at the 1972 Games. Also a silver medalist in C-1 at the Beijing 2008 Games, Florence said he has never heard anything like the crowd that packed Lee Valley Whitewater venue.
“It was just unreal,” said Florence, the front-paddler in the tandem’s canoe. “We knew it was going to be noisy and it was something we talked about in preparation, but it was 10 times what I expected. Sitting at the start you could hardly hear yourself think. It was deafening.”
Even more astounding about the unexpected British success was that both duos defeated the seemingly invincible, three-time defending Olympic champion Hochschorner brothers of Slovakia.
“To beat the Hochschorners and I know it was only one day – they are the gold standard in our sport so to be on the podium above them was amazing,” said Florence.
In an event where synchronicity is paramount, often taking years for successful partners to gel, Florence and Hounslow have been competing together in doubles canoe for less than four years.
“Some people ask, ‘Does the back man have a specific role, steering more while the front man provides more of the power,’ but I think far more important than that is really getting into sync and knowing you are working together all the time,” said Florence, also a four-time world championship medalist.
“Me and Rich we didn’t have to talk too much. I think for our final run we barely spoke more than two or three words to each other in more than an hour, but we both knew exactly what we had to do and we were ready for it.”
With Hounslow taking a break from racing since London, Florence, as he did in Prague, will once again compete in C-1 at next weekend’s ICF World Cup finale in Bratislava, Slovakia.
And regarding Rio de Janeiro 2016?
“My impulse is to go to Rio, but you need a bit of reflection,” he said. “Its been a long four years, but right now I’m very motivated and the Olympic Games is definitely my draw to the sport, so I think Rio is very possible.”
Here’s a little video reliving one of the greatest moments in British Olympic paddling from the Brit peanut gallery live from the London Games.