The 2016 Olympics have come to a close for whitewater canoe and kayak slalom. The 794-foot course with 15 feet of drop at the Deodoro X-park (shown above from racer perspective) dished out plenty of excitement. The wind alone, which never seemed to cease, kept the gates swinging throughout the event and made for an intense competition full of celebration and heartache. Every discipline featured a new face at the top of the Olympic podium, and in the harsh realm of whitewater slalom where it seems the same nations dominate each Summer Games, some of the flags which flew highest have finally changed.
Maialen Chourraut put together what was, possibly, the most dominating display throughout any of the classes to claim the first-ever slalom Olympic gold for Spain. The 2016 Olympic champion posted a final run of 98.65 seconds, the fastest women’s K-1 time of the entire competition.
— Planet Canoe (@PlanetCanoe) August 11, 2016
33-year-old Chourraut bested her nearest opponent by over three seconds with a smoothness on the course her competitors could not match.
Of her success, Chourraut stated in a conference following the race, “I have been working every day, taking it step-by-step to get to this point of winning the Olympic gold medal," and also added, "For my family it is a reward for all the nerves and emotion they have felt.”
Though Chourraut’s performance was tough to beat, Luuka Jones of New Zealand, who won silver in the women’s K-1, captured some Olympic magic of her own. Jones not only pulled off the upset and climbed the podium for her first time in an international championship; when she did so, she won the first-ever canoe slalom medal for her home nation, making a statement of legitimacy for herself and the small island nation as competitors with the European juggernauts:
"It’s huge," Jones stated following the race. "I guess it’s put canoe slalom in the spotlight. It’s not one of New Zealand’s key sports but we now have our own whitewater course in Auckland and the young guys coming through in our sport will hopefully get a lot more support. It’s hopefully going to be a game-changer.”
I'll never forget this moment. Thank you everyone for your amazing support and messages. It was an incredible Games for me. Totally stoked the work payed off, everything came together & I felt good throughout the entire competition. A total team effort, there have been so many people who have helped me out and helped make this happen! Big love. Thanks for having my back out there @louisejull ❤🖒🖒
The men’s side of the competition tallied a couple milestones of its own, as Joseph Clarke made the most of his first-ever Olympic performance by grasping hold of the men’s kayak gold, the first ever for Great Britain in men’s K-1.
In an interview with the BBC following the race, Clarke had this to say of his path to the gold medal: “When I woke up, I struggled to have breakfast I was so nervous with all the emotions. I thought if it goes to plan I could come away with a medal, but to be Olympic champion … it is something you dream about.”
In the men’s C-1, Takuya Haneda accomplished something no other Japanese slalom athlete has been able to do: Capture a medal. In his third Olympic appearance, Haneda took home the bronze, a significant achievement in both his career and that of another Pacific island nation.
“This the first medal in an Olympic Games for the Japanese canoe team. I think this medal is for the entire Japanese and I’m so honored that I get the bronze medal," Haneda said in an interview with the ICF following the Olympic final.
"I have to reset now, focus on what I have to do next."
— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) August 10, 2016
Though none of the American whitewater athletes were able to crack the code for a medal, every one of them advanced to the semifinal round. The accomplishment of stepping up to the challenge of performing at the grandest stage in sports, is one they, and the rest of the field will all surely celebrate over the course of the next week. But while for many the idea of simply being in an Olympics alone might be good enough, that is not what has pushed each of these athletes to this level, and as they will surely all say, the path to Tokyo starts today.
Here is a quick rundown of how the action unfolded this past week at the Deodoro X-park of the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
Gold – Denis Gargaud Chanut – France 94.17: Chanut proved himself to be a worthy heir to the French C-1 seat, and was presented the gold from his predecessor, the great Tony Estanguet.
Silver – Matej Benus – Slovakia 95.02: Benus also follows in the footsteps of one of the sport’s legends Michal Martikan. Estangeut and Martikan provided slalom with the greatest Olympic rivalry in the sport’s history. Perhaps Benus and Chanut are on a path to do the same.
Bronze – Takuya Haneda – Japan 97.44: The first canoe slalom medal earned by an athlete of Japan.
Team USA – Casey Eichfeld, 7th overall – 99.69: Eichfeld showed his Olympic experience by putting together the strongest performance for the U.S. Two gate touches cost Eichfeld dearly. His raw time of 95.69 provides much encouragement, as it would have been enough for the podium.
Gold – Joseph Clarke – Great Britain 88.53: Clarke made his Olympic debut count, facing fierce competition to bring home Great Britain’s first K-1 gold. His fellow medalists finished within a half-second of his winning time.
Silver – Peter Kauzer – Slovenia 88.70: A true veteran of the sport, Kauzer is finally able to add an Olympic medal to his collection which includes 2009 and 2011 world championship gold.
Bronze – Jiri Prskavec – Czech Republic 88.99: Gold was within reach of the 23-year-old 2015 world champion. Even with a gate touch halfway through the final, Prskavec was able to claim bronze.
Team USA – Michal Smolen, 12th overall – 97.87: Unable to advance to the K-1 final in his first Olympic appearance, Smolen felt the pressure of the Summer Games. He is however relentless to complete what he has set out to accomplish: "This is my life; I'm not going to do anything else. I wanted a medal. That was the goal and I didn't reach that, so I have four more years, maybe eight more years to reach that goal and honestly I'm not going to stop until I get it."
Gold – Ladislav Skantar/Peter Skantar – Slovakia 101.58: These cousins continued the Slovakian tradition of C-2 Olympic gold set forth by twin brothers Pavol and Peter Hochschorner.
Silver – David Florence/Richard Hounslow – Great Britain 102.01: Florence and Hounslow returned to familiar territory, repeating their silver performance of 2012. The podium was redemption for Florence who fell to 10th place in the men’s C-1 final.
Bronze – Gauthier Klauss/Matthieu Peche – France 103.24: The world-ranked number one pair rounded out the podium and collected France’s second slalom medal of the 2016 Games.
Team USA – Casey Eichfeld/Devin McEwan, 10th – 117.85: The American duo progressed to the Olympic final, but were unable to overcome eight seconds of penalties.
Gold – Maialen Chourraut – Spain 98.65: Chourraut left the field in her wake, winning the first-ever gold for Spanish slalom, with a stunning performance in the women’s K-1.
Silver – Luuka Jones – New Zealand 101.82: Jones pulled off the upset bringing home a medal for her fellow Kiwis, the first for the nation.
Bronze – Jessica Fox – Australia 102.49: Fox initially thought her run would provide her with the gold or silver, but a video review would reveal a two-second penalty. Even so she claims the bronze, the second Olympic medal of her career at the age of 22.
Team USA – Ashley Nee, 14th overall – 116.59: Nee advanced to the semifinal in her much awaited Olympic debut. The experience is sure to leave the Maryland native hungry for more.
Read the stories of each US athlete in C&K’s Road to Rio series.