RIO DE JANEIRO – On the heels of winning the fourth Olympic medal of his career, Adam van Koeverden just stopped.
He stopped training, stopped working out casually and decided to get a job.
The Canadian kayak legend didn’t retire from racing after the 2012 Games in London, but he also wasn’t sure if he had the desire to continue.
“I stopped being physical,” said van Koeverden. “That was a bad choice.”
The Oakville, Ont., native finally got back into his boat after working for a Toronto marketing firm for a few months, but something wasn’t right.
And with some frustrating results starting to wear on him, he linked up with the Australian national team, a move that, along with some sage advice from a few confidants, gave him the boost he needed to push on to the Rio Olympics.
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“He knew he had to take some big steps to get back in the game,” said Canoe Kayak Canada sprint high performance director Scott Logan. “He took them, and here he is. He’s back.”
Van Koeverden will be on the water at Lagoa Stadium on Monday when competition in the 1,000-metre singles race – known as the K-1 1,000 – gets underway with the heats and semifinals. The final goes Tuesday.
The 34-year-old won a gold and bronze at the 2004 Games in Athens before picking up silvers in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.
An eight-time medallist at the world championships, including golds in 2003 and 2007, van Koeverden is realistic about his chances of getting to the podium in Brazil, but he’s also quietly confident.
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“My goal on Monday is to make the final because that’s all I can do on Monday,” he said. “I’ll worry about Tuesday when I make the final. They don’t mail the medals out at the Olympics, they don’t decide beforehand who’s going to be the best. I hate the term ‘supposed to win.’ Nobody’s supposed to win. There’s no pre-destiny. You get on the water and you paddle as hard as you can because you want to win.
“Making the final is not a given to anybody.”
Monday’s heat will be van Koeverden’s first race at 1,000 metres since finishing third at last summer’s Pan Am Games.
He said he took time off because his body was overworked in some areas and underworked in others, while also adding his iron levels were very low.
“I knew that under the right circumstances he could get back, but I think everyone had some doubts at one point,” Logan said of van Koeverden’s journey post-London.
“But you only have to know the guy a little bit to know that if anybody can do it, he can. Even during his worst days he was still one of our best athletes.
“This guy prides himself on being on podiums and he’s been there four times. It’s quite amazing.”
Gone are the days of van Koeverden constantly pushing his body to the limit in training, now instead preferring a more selective regimen.
“When I was 22, 23 years old I had a literal super power. I could recover from any kind of physical abuse,” he said. “I just recovered.
“I credit that little super power, for the time that I had it, with a lot of my success. It was probably the reason I was able to get as good as I did as fast as I did when I was young.”
Like most Olympians in the twilight of their careers, van Koeverden is coy about what the future holds after this week, but he does plan on racing at the Canadian nationals after the Games.
“I’ve been thinking about it non-stop,” he said. “I don’t have an answer yet.”
– With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Frederic Daigle