RIO DE JANEIRO — Just seconds into her first heat in canoe slalom, Maialen Chourraut thought her Olympics were over.
She missed a gate entirely in the women's kayak on the fast but unforgiving course at Whitewater Stadium.
Nervous in the second heat, she was penalized twice for touching gates but sliced and curled through the waves and eddies so fast that she scraped into the semifinals, 11th out of 15. Surviving, she said, made her feel stronger.
That was Monday.
On Thursday, all she touched were river rapids and the heart of her husband and national coach, Xabier Etxaniz, who jumped into the water in the finish area to give her a congratulatory kiss for winning the gold medal. Her daughter Ane was on the bank, pointing out who was No. 1.
"This was a very special project for my family," Chourraut said, "and we achieved what we wanted."
Without incurring any more penalties, Chourraut qualified third for the final, then surprised even herself when she finished three seconds faster than Luuka Jones of New Zealand who, in turn, slashed more than five seconds off the leading run.
Chourraut knew she was guaranteed a bronze because there were only two more paddlers to complete the final, including former world champion Corinna Kuhnle of Austria, but both touched two gates each. Chourraut screamed again and covered her face in the finish area as the first Spaniard in canoe slalom to win an Olympic gold medal, adding it to her bronze from the London Games.
Jones, last in her only previous major final at the 2014 worlds, was the first New Zealander to medal in the discipline, on her third attempt.
Jess Fox, the top-ranked woman and big
After she was an unexpected second in London, Australians dubbed her the "Silver Fox," and her ongoing success fueled high expectations of an upgraded change in nickname. Fox was coming off a World Cup win in Italy in May and a kayak-canoe double at the junior worlds in Poland less than a month ago.
For second-ranked Chourraut, the win was a reward for years of just missing the top step on the podium at the biggest races. Besides her 2012 Olympic bronze, she was second at the worlds in 2009, and third in 2011. Since the London Games, she's won three World Cups, the 2015 European championship, and had a daughter. She kept paddling until the eighth month of her pregnancy, so it would be easier to regain her form.
"This (gold medal) is what I've been looking for since a long time ago," she said. "For my family it is a reward for all the nerves and emotion they have felt."
Meanwhile, the Skantar cousins from Slovakia, Ladislav and Peter, likely won the last gold medal in double canoe, as it's expected to be phased out after the Rio Olympics and replaced by women's single canoe for gender balance.
The cousins' triumph brought them out from the considerable shadow of their compatriots, the great Hochschorner twins, Pavel and Peter, who won the 2000, 2004 and 2008 gold medals, plus the bronze in London. The twins lost Slovakia's quota spot to the Skantars at the European championships in May, and the Skantars felt a lot of pressure to follow in their footsteps.
"We," Peter Skantar said, "are very happy because we have kind of substituted the brothers, and that's why the gold was very high to reach for us."
Britain's Richard Hounslow and David Florence repeated their silver-medal effort from London, and France's Gauthier Klauss and Matthieu Peche redeemed their fourth-place finish in London with the bronze.