van Koeverden rules the kayak waters for Canada

The 2008 Summer Olympics are set to begin in Beijing and a number of athletes representing Canada have roots in the Hamilton area.

Adam van Koeverden
Olympic Events: Men’s K-1500m and K-1 1000m
Birthdate: Jan. 29, 1982
Hometown: Oakville.
Residence: Oakville
Club: Burloak Canoe Club
Coach: Scott Oldershaw

On the topic of making an impact on a sport, few athletes reach the level that Adam van Koeverden has. Using his pure physical strength in propelling his kayak through the water, van Koeverden is now an international star in his sport. And he is certainly one of Canada’s greatest athletes ever to participate in canoe-kayak.

He single-handedly lifted Canada’s spirits at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games by initiating a double medal performance. First he raced to a bronze medal in the K-1 1000 metres. One day later in the K-1500m sprint, van Koeverden won gold. He was one of the brightest success stories to emerge from Athens for Canada. It was his first Olympic appearance yet the Oakville native became Canada’s first double medallist since 1996. For this, he was elected Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremony. And later he was named Male Athlete of the Year (Lou Marsh Award).

He is extremely driven. In the canoe-kayak world, van Koeverden is known for always going hard every time he gets in a kayak – whether it is training, practising against teammates or competing against the world’s best. Regardless of the situation, he has only one speed: full. Teammates such as Mark Oldershaw have said that van Koeverden makes the Canadian team stronger by presence alone. His relentless attitude toward competition makes all Canadian canoe-kayakers stronger, more professional and – most of all – confident that they can achieve podium success in any race.

A veteran of the Burloak Canoe Club, van Koeverden is the undisputed leader of Canadian paddlers heading to Beijing. (And there will be a lot this year, as Canada has qualified a boat for every race.) He has not shifted gears since the 2004 Olympic Games, or even from 2003 when he captured silver in K-1 1,000m at the World Championships. His run from then until now is nothing short of remarkable.

At the 2005 World Championships, the sprint kayaker won silver again in the K-1 1000m and bronze in the K-1500m. He reached another level in 2007. In his third trip to the World Championships, van Koeverden won gold in the K-1 500 metres, adding a silver in the K-1 1000m. So as it stands, he is the reigning Olympic champion and world champion in the K-1500m. In that event, he holds the world record at 1:36.2.

Adam van Koeverden has won 19 World Cup gold medals (as of June 15, 2008). He has dominated the World Cup circuit over the past four years, winning the overall title each year from 2004 through 2007. He is a 44-time Canadian champion kayaker. And he couldn’t be heading to the Olympic Games any hotter. He capped a terrific 2007 season that saw him go undefeated on the World Cup circuit in the six races prior to capturing the World Championship in Germany. And he has continued that run into the first two World Cup events this year.

On June 7, van Koeverden won double gold at the first stop on the World Cup circuit in Hungary. It was his 40th international medal. A week later he won gold again in the 500-metre event. The recent Kinesiology graduate from McMaster University said his aim is not just to win his two Olympic races and to improve on past times, but to be the fastest paddler ever. That shouldn’t be mistaken for egotism – it is simply his drive. And, for the record, such goals are not unattainable.

The paddler, who is an athlete ambassador for the humanitarian group Right to Play, expects to win each race if he is at his best. And with his experience this decade, there would be no other expectation come Beijing. He trains year-round and is fine with leaving his competition, quite literally, in his wake.

In racing amid rotten weather at a recent World Cup event, van Koeverden gave a glimpse of what it takes to be a champion. He wrote in a blog: “I gladly raced and won my two heats Friday in long sleeves, only mildly sympathetic toward my opponents from Australia, South Africa or New Zealand who spend their summers training at home while it is winter in Canada and I’m breaking ice with my paddles on the Sixteen Mile Creek in Oakville.”