WINDSOR, England - Two friends with a ton of Olympic history made the canoe-kayak medal podium Wednesday.
Adam van Koeverden won silver in kayak, his fourth medal in three Olympics, in the K-1 1,000 metres. And training partner Mark Oldershaw, a third-generation Olympian, claimed canoe bronze in the C-1 1,000 metres.
Watching over both of them was proud coach Scott Oldershaw, Mark's father.
Van Koeverden, the reigning world champion, looked for the silver lining in silver. Oldershaw, who finished 10th in Beijing four years ago when nerves got the best of him, was bubbling over bronze.
"(It feels) very heavy and it's awesome," a grinning Oldershaw said of the medal around his neck. "And I'm going to wear it for a while."
After a blazing start, van Koeverden lost gold to friend and longtime training partner Eirik Veras Larsen of Norway in the final stretch.
Larsen, 36, was the 2004 Olympic champion and 2008 silver medallist in the K-1 1,000. He also won bronze in the K-2 500 in Athens.
Van Koeverden won gold and bronze at the Athens Games in 2004 and a silver in Beijing. The gold and silver came in the 500 metres —which has since been replaced by a 200-metre race — and the bronze in the 1,000. He was eighth in the 1,000 metres four years ago.
The 30-year-old from Oakville, Ont., admits Beijing was a hard pill to swallow. He had won a lot of races going into the 2008 Games and put a lot of pressure on himself.
"And it was like people were counting my two gold medals before I showed up and I was resentful of that ... This is really hard, like it's hard to win Olympic silver, it's hard to squeeze out a bronze," he said.
Like most of us, he has matured over the years. Any disappointment Wednesday was tempered by respect for his rivals, the knowledge that you can't win them all and the realization that he has much to be grateful for.
Still, van Koeverden showed his steely side when asked if he had come out too fast.
"I started the way I wanted to," he replied. "I was super-comfortable. Going through the 500 I had tons of energy. It's not a case of a screwed-up race plan, this is a case of one guy in the whole world being better than me. And I can live with that.
"Seven billion people, one guy's better. It's OK."
But it's not gold. He called the silver "bittersweet." When he met his mother after the race, van Koeverden told her the medal was the wrong colour.
"She said 'I don't care,'" he related. "And I don't. I mean I care, but this is awesome."
Prior to the race, van Koeverden said he just wanted to race as fast as he could. "I think I did," he said.
But he came to win.
"Tomorrow morning the silver will be amazing and awesome," said Scott Oldershaw. "Right now there's still some disappointment at not winning that one."
The two Canadians won their medals in vastly different fashions.
Van Koeverden rocketed out of the start with a lung-busting 100 strokes per minute and held the lead until Larsen ran him down as the finish approached.
Oldershaw was a full second out of fourth place with 250 metres remaining but powered his way onto the podium. The 29-year-old from Burlington, Ont, may have got silver had it not been for a fast-charging David Cal Figueroa of Spain. Germany's Sebastian Brendel, a three-time European champion, won gold.
For Van Koeverden, a duel with training partner Larsen was old hat.
"I could see Eirik out of the corner of my eye and I just thought 'I've done this so many times. I've done this last quarter with Eirik on my shoulder so many times, let's do it again.' And I did it the best I could."
Larsen was fastest over the final 250 metres. Van Koeverden, who posted the best first three splits, was second fastest in the final 250.
Van Koeverden estimates he and the Norwegian have done 1,000 workouts together over the last 14 years, with honours about evenly split.
"We've said to each other many many times after training, 'I don't think anybody in the world could have done what we did today.'"
Van Koeverden has slept on Larsen's couch and had dinner at his house. He said if he had to lose to someone, better it was someone as classy as the Norwegian.
Larsen won in three minutes 26.462 seconds, ahead of van Koeverden in 3:27.170 and six-foot-six German Max Hoff, a two-time world champion, in 3:27.759.
"Larsen had an awesome race. Probably his best race since he won in Athens that I've seen him do," said Scott Oldershaw.
Van Koeverden arrived at this final in imperious form. He was fastest in both his heat and semifinal Monday, posting the fastest times of the day.
Van Koeverden has essentially done it all at the Olympics. His Games resume includes being flag-bearer in 2008 and carrying the flag at the closing ceremonies in 2004.
His medal Wednesday takes him one past Caroline Brunet, making him Canada's most prolific canoe-kayak Olympian.
Van Koeverden said he had "no idea" when asked about his future. "I don't feel like I'm done paddling. But I need some time away for it to know for sure."
He does plan to compete in the Canadian championship later this summer in Nova Scotia.
As for the immediate future, van Koeverden had his eye on a beer or two. Oldershaw said he may just sit down with a few friends and make a toast.
"I'm not 22 any more. I'm almost 30 so I don't know if I'll be getting super-drunk or anything," he said.
The K-1 1,000 final was a stacked field also featuring Sweden's Anders Gustafsson, another van Koeverden training partner who has won silver twice at the worlds; World Cup winner Rene Poulsen of Denmark; former world junior champion Francisco Cubelos Sanchez of Spain; rising Belarus star Aleh Yurenia; and 2008 champion Tim Brabants of Britain.
They are all familiar faces to van Koeverden, who got congratulations from one athlete after another as they walked past him.
"The same guys that I race all the time," said van Koeverden. "No surprises. Those are my friends."
He calls his fellow elite kayakers "men of integrity."
There was a steady drizzle early at Eton Dorney but van Koeverden could only think how lucky he was to be there.
"Beautiful day for a regatta. If this isn't nice, I don't know what is. #GoCanada," he tweeted in the morning.
He was right. The sun poked out before race time.
Brendel won the C-1 1,000 in 3:47.176. Cal Figueroa, who holds the world and Olympic best times, had the fastest final 250 metres to place second in 3:48.053 ahead of Oldershaw in 3:48.502.
Van Koeverden was ecstatic at Oldershaw's bronze, calling him a "completely unbelievable" physical specimen who could have chosen his pick of sports.
"Mark Oldershaw is ridiculous and those guys he raced against today are equally ridiculous," said van Koeverden. "He's among some incredible athletes. You saw those C-1 guys, they're like ballerinas and linebackers in one body. They're seriously unbelievable."
Van Koeverden and Mark Oldershaw have known each other since they met 16 years ago at the Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville.
"As soon as he came down to the club he wanted to go fast," Mark recalled. "And he's been going fast his whole life."
Mark Oldershaw is the fifth member of his family to compete in canoe-kayak at the Olympic Games.
Grandfather Bert Oldershaw finished fifth at the 1948 Games in London and went on to compete at two more Games. Scott competed in Los Angeles in 1984, while uncles Dean (Munich, 1972) and Reed (Montreal, 1976) were also Olympians.
A tumour on Mark's hand a decade almost ended his athletic career and cost him a shot at Athens. He had to undergo two surgeries and, according to his father, spent a year in constant pain. The tumour was on a nerve and the slightest movement caused agony.
"He spent a year where he probably didn't sleep more than 30 minutes at a time because as soon as he moved when asleep he'd wake up from the pain," said Scott.
He couldn't grip the top of his paddle so Mark and brother Adam made a swivel joint attached to the end of his panel and his wrist. He still managed to come fourth in the trials that year.
Four years ago, perhaps feeling the pressure of his family's Olympic ties, he failed to make the final. Much pain and soul-searching followed, making Wednesday's medal all the sweeter.
"This is one of the bronze medals that means almost as much as a gold," said Scott. "Some do, some don't. This one definitely is way up there on all the medals that are being win. This is special for him."
Mark says he plans to keep competing.
"I think so. I had the best time of my life here so I don't know why I would want to stop," he said. "I'm in the best shape of my life, so I don't know why I would want to stop. But I'll definitely take the fall a little easier and kind of sit down and decide then."
Mark, the first to make an Olympic final since Bert, wrote his grandfather's name on his boat prior to Wednesday's final for good luck.
He also brought his late grandfather's wooden paddle from the 1948 Games in London to these Games, stashing it in his hotel room.
Van Koeverden wanted to do the same to honour his friend Simon Whitfield, who crashed out of the triathlon Tuesday. Whitfield had put van Koeverden's name on his handlebars.
"I didn't have marker so I just wrote it with my finger," said van Koeverden, who teared up talking about his friend.
The medals were the third and fourth for Canada at Eton Dorney. The men's and women's rowing eights won silver at the venue last week.
Also Wednesday, Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, Ont., and Hugues Fournel of Lachine, Que., finished fourth in the K-2 1,000-metre B final. The two race in their K-2 200-metre speciality later in the week.
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