Upon crossing the finish to capture silver in the men's 1000-meter double canoe, Brazil’s Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos accomplished a feat in his first Olympic appearance that no other athlete of his home nation has ever achieved, in any sport – winning three medals in a single Olympic games.
With the help of his C-2 partner Erlon de Souza Silva (the pair, pictured above, are also the 2015 world champions in the event), Queiroz dos Santos has done just that, elevating the Brazilian to a status of athletic heroism in his home nation and host of the 2016 Summer Games.
Queiroz (pictured above) first gained silver in the C-1 1000 meter, but second of these medals, a bronze in the 200 meter C-1, may have arrived in the most dramatic fashion at Lagoa Stadium. Falling behind quickly in the short sprint, the Brazilian pushed to gain ground, making a valiant charge for the finish, surpassing Alfonso Benavidez Lopez de Ayala for the bronze. In a field where all eight competitors vying for the podium broke the previous world record time of 40.346 seconds, Queiroz dos Santos and gold medalist Iurii Cheban of Ukraine (pictured below) both capsized upon crossing the finish.
After the unlikely come back, Queiroz stated, "never give up, always persist … insist, persist, but never give up because one day you will conquer. This medal is for all Brazilians who never gave up on your dreams."
Queiroz dos Santos’s status as a hero of athletics reaches well beyond his medal count at the close of the 2016 Games. The 22-year-old has faced harsh adversity as he grew up to reach the level of elite athlete and multi-medalist. As a boy in northeastern Brazil, he once suffered severe burn trauma and thought unlikely to survive. A few years later he was kidnapped to be sold through child trafficking, before fortunately being returned safely to his family. And at the age of 10, Queiroz fell from a tree, severely damaging a kidney, which would have to be removed. A year after this accident at age 11, Queiroz began canoeing, thanks to a government program brought to his region. While the physical and psychological scars of these occurrences could have easily kept Queiroz from his place among the top tier of athletics, they instead have made him stronger.
The fortitude of the superstar canoe sprinter, who promises to provide much more international success, is simply yet elegantly stated in his words following his first Olympic podium, “It really was for me a satisfaction to be able to win this medal after all the obstacles I have faced.”
A unique triple-medalist feat also highlighted the women’s side of the competition as Hungary’s Danuta Kozak (pictured below) became the first female canoe-sprint athlete to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games.
Prior to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Kozak was already one of the most-decorated paddlers of all time with two gold medals from the London 2012 Games and a silver from Beijing in 2008 (not mention 10 world championship titles).
Kozak’s unprecedented exploits helped put Hungary second in the canoe sprint medal table behind Germany, which won four golds, two silvers and bronze across the 12 events contested, with notable wins tallied by Sebastian Brendel’s gold in both the men’s 1000 meter C-1 and C-2, as well as Max Rendschmidt and Marcus Gross gold-medaling in both Germany’s winning 1000 meter K-2 and K-4 crews.
While many of the champions from the London 2012 Games’ were absent from Rio, the majority of those who did return retained their titles. Lisa Carrington’s second consecutive win in the 200 meter women’s K-1 (pictured below) punctuated a very productive Olympics for the Kiwis through both the sprint and slalom disciplines.
The exceptions were in the men’s 1000 meter K-4, where Germany took Australia’s London 2012 Olympic Games crown, and in the women’s 500 meter K-2, where London 2012 champions Tina Dietze (GER) and Franziska Weber (GER) relegated to second behind Kozak.
In all 19 countries shared out the medals on offer at Lagoa Stadium.
— Full results of the 2016 Olympic canoe/kayak sprint
— Read a recap of the 2016 canoe/kayak Olympic slalom and Maialen Chourraut’s dominating performance in the women’s K-1.
— An interview with U.S. Olympic sprint kayaker Maggie Hogan.
— Check out C&K‘s entire Road to Rio series.