07/31/2012 11:30 EDT | Updated 09/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Tony Estanguet of France wins gold in canoe slalom at Olympics

WALTHAM CROSS, England - Tony Estanguet got to beat his great rival one last time at the Olympics.

In what was probably the final act of a rivalry stretching back more than a decade, Estanguet regained the canoe slalom Olympic title from Slovakia's Michal Martikan on Tuesday in a rattling finish on the white water rapids.

The Frenchman set a winning time of 97.06 seconds to win gold and edge young Sideris Tasiadis of Germany, who was the last competitor down the course and just missed out on a surprise victory.

Tasiadis claimed silver in 98.09, 1.03 seconds off Estanguet's mark and less than a quarter-second ahead of Martikan, the defending champion and 1996 gold medallist . He took the bronze medal in 98.31.

Estanguet regained the title he won in 2000 and 2004 and celebrated by holding up a French flag as he floated across the water in his canoe. Afterward, he said it was likely his last Olympics.

"I'm really proud to be able to finish like this," the 34-year-old Estanguet said. "I didn't decide (yet) ... but probably the story is going to end."

Estanguet and Martikan have now won the last five Olympic golds between them, meaning it's 20 years since another man stood at the top of the podium in the canoe slalom singles.

With his bronze, Martikan won a medal for the fifth straight Olympics, having taken gold in Atlanta as a teenager in '96 and then again in Beijing four years ago to go with silvers in Sydney and Athens. The 33-year-old Martikan is the most decorated Slovakian Olympian and canoe slalom's most successful competitor, but said he wasn't yet ready to quit.

"I love this sport very much. This is the nicest Olympic sport in the program," he said. "I am very happy that I can paddle canoe slalom. That's all."

Estanguet won back the C-1 title in stirring fashion, beating Martikan's time and then watching nervously in his canoe on the water near the finish line as Tasiadis came within a second of stealing gold at the end.

"For sure, with Michal we have a special story," Estanguet said, looking across and smiling with his rival at the news conference. "I told him on the podium I respected him a lot. Thanks to him I could leave great moments in my career."

Estanguet started sixth of the eight finalists on the 23-gate artificial Lee Valley White Water Centre course that's been carved out of a field just north of London

After slicing through the gates in a faultless showing, he broke into a wide smile at the end of his run, sensing he was close to a third Olympic gold and a place alongside Slovakian twins Peter and Pavol Hochschorner — the only other men to have three Olympic golds in canoe slalom.

Tasiadis, who qualified fastest in the semifinal, was behind Estanguet's leading time at most of the splits but suddenly found a surge of energy as the crowd roared him on through the last few gates to take it right to the line.

He still celebrated his first Olympic medal as if he'd won, pumping his fists out in front of him and looking up at the sky after he realized he would be on the podium alongside two of the sport's greatest.

"For me, it was crazy to win silver," the 22-year-old Tasiadis said. "They both are role models for me."

Estanguet hugged his coach and brother as they leaned over from the bank. The new Olympic champion then threw up both arms in celebration.

Earlier, top-ranked David Florence of Britain failed to qualify for the final, denying the home team a medal in one of the competitions it had targeted for a podium finish at the London Games.

Florence finished 10th of 12 men in the semifinals and missed the eight-man final after a sloppy, error-filled performance.