Dodging shopping trolleys and buried rubbish in the Water of Leith gave David Florence an ability to swerve around the unexpected and the Capital canoeist shook off high winds and the challenge of his rivals to pull off a fault-free opening run at the Olympic Games yesterday.
After the conditions delayed the start of the C1 event, the 33-year-old breezed through his opening run with the fastest time of 94.11 seconds, almost a second ahead of his closest challenger – and was then able to sit out the second with his spot in tomorrow’s semi-finals secure. And, it was an ideal first run for the twice-silver medallist who will kick off his C2 doubles bid with Richard Hounslow today.
“It was really good to get started,” he said. “We’ve spent so much time here and it’s almost as though you lose sight of the fact there’s an Olympic Games coming here. Even being in the Village for two weeks already, it seemed strange when it started the other day. It’s really nice to get racing and you’ve got to enjoy it.
“I think I’ve enjoyed every Olympic Games I’ve been to massively. I take my sport very very seriously. I do it because I love it. I love having the opportunity to be at a Games. It’s an incredible experience. But I’ve prepared very well and I’m ready. But ultimately. I’m in the sport because I enjoy it.”
The conditions were a breeze, he said, even as grey skies covered Rio and threatened to add an extra ingredient to the purpose-built course.
“When we arrived on the bus, it was really windy,” he acknowledged. “Firstly I thought: ‘better it happens on qualifying day than finals day’. But the wind died down and conditions were absolutely fine for the race.”
They didn’t seem to concern him unduly with every twist and turn negotiated without a blemish and no slip-ups to cause concern. “There were a couple of moves which were pretty tricky,” he said. “The gates weren’t particularly difficult but it was quite difficult top keep the boat running sometimes. The poles, as is often the case when you come to an Olympic Games, are lower than you’re used to training on. Sometimes you have to give it more room which doesn’t feel quite as flowing.
“There are obviously an infinite number of possibility of gates so we practice a lot of similar moves but at the same time. None of them are exactly what we practiced. It is new but I know the water very well – as do all the other guys. Without that, it would be very difficult.”
With world titles to his name and his reputation secure, the historic challenge here is not whether Florence can take a gold but whether he can land two medals in two different events which no-one has ever done before.
Performances in recent times, despite the occasional glitch, have him confident he can take his best shot. “It’s going as well as it ever has really. This Olympic cycle has brought the most success of my career so far. I went into London 2012 never having won a world championships and I’ve won three over the last few years.”
It might not even be his last Games, he hints. “I’m really enjoying it so if you’re angling to ask if I’m about to retire. I’m not.”
Fellow Scot Fiona Pennie starts her K1 slalom kayaking bid today.