Edinburgh canoeist David Florence revealed he has been training harder than ever in an a concerted bid to upgrade his two Olympic silver medals to gold in Rio next week.
The three-time world slalom champion finished second in Beijing in 2008 and again in London four years ago but has left no stone unturned as he attempts to make it third time lucky in Brazil.
Florence won last November’s Olympic test event in Rio and has since made five further training trips to South America as he and the rest of the small British team – including his C2 doubles partner Rich Hounslow – sought to steal a march on the competition by getting to know the 2016 slalom course more intimately than their rivals.
“It’s been great,” said the Scot at his Brazilian base following another week of Olympic fine-tuning. “I’ve had some really good training camps here in Rio, and I’ve been training possibly the hardest I ever have in my life.
“Knowing the course well is always really important in canoe slalom, and with most of the other top guys training here so much I couldn’t afford to put myself at a disadvantage.”
Besides being forced to leave behind his wife and baby son, the only other drawback to this approach is that Florence was obliged to miss most of this season’s World Cup, an event close to his heart since he won the C1 singles title back in 2009 and it is always a major part of his summer programme.
This year, by contrast, his only races have been at the European Championships in Slovakia in May, when he finished 15th and 17th, plus one World Cup round in Spain where he improved markedly to claim two top-six placings. Time penalties due to clipped gates cost him two medals in Barcelona and the raw speed was clearly there, yet concerns persist that a lightly-raced Florence might arrive ‘undercooked’ in Brazil.
“No, I don’t think so,” he answered emphatically. “It was hard to do everything and I decided to prioritise time training out in Rio over racing on the World Cup circuit. I didn’t do many races in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics for the same reason.
“Having won the C1 World Championships [in London] last year, I know I’m one of the guys here capable of winning the gold, but for me, I feel I perform at my best when I focus on my own performance and my own runs.”
As always in such a precarious, unpredictable sport, good fortune may also play a part, and Florence hopes history will repeat itself in Rio after he made the medal podium in Beijing in 2008 when his birthday fell on the same day as the opening ceremony. The Chinese chose that date specifically because they believed August 8 to be lucky, and as Florence prepares to turn 34 on Monday, any positive omens are most welcome.
“Very much so,” he said. “To go to my first Olympics in Beijing was an incredible experience and to have walked out into the opening ceremony on my birthday is a great memory.”
Competition gets under way in Rio this weekend, with C1 heats on Sunday and C2 qualifying on Florence’s birthday on Monday. If everything goes according to plan, watch the Forth Canoe Club star go for gold in the C1 final on Tuesday at 7.15pm, and the C2 final on Thursday 11th at 6.15.