The Hungarian national anthem reverberated around the Dorney Lake course yesterday as the eastern European country took the early honors against their fierce rivals Germany in the canoe regatta.
Hungary, who alongside Germany have dominated the flatwater disciplines at recent Games, powered to gold in the men’s K2, while their women’s K4 won the final race of the day to deny Germany their fifth straight Olympic title.
Germany, who had started the first day of the Olympic canoe finals as favorites for at least two of the four events, won one gold, one silver and two bronze.
“I cannot tell you how happy I am,” a beaming Katalin Kovacs from the women’s Hungarian K4 told reporters on the side of the lake after finally winning gold in the event to go with three Olympic silvers.
Kovacs won gold medals in the K2 in Athens and Beijing.
“It’s an incredible feeling when something you planned comes true,” she said.
Her only regret, she added, was not being able to share the feeling of victory with her former crew mates from the silver-winning boats.
The sight of the eight women’s fours powering for the line in the shortest and most dramatic race of the day, sending water splashing everywhere and roared on by more than 20,000 fans, capped a fine first day of medals for a sport that rarely features in the public domain outside of the four-year Olympic cycle.
Gabriella Szabo of Hungary described the win as revenge over a German crew that included Katrin Wagner-Augustin, who was in the hunt for her fifth Olympic gold medal.
Competing in what could be her last race, Germany’s most decorated athlete in London said she accepted that the Hungarians were better.
If she retires, Wagner-Augustin will finish behind former German great Birgit Fischer, who won eight Olympic gold medals.
“It was a good career, I have 10 gold medals in world championships and four gold medals in Olympics, and one silver, one bronze, it is great, I am very proud,” she said. “We have won the silver, we haven’t lost the gold.”
In the blue-riband event, Norway’s Eirik Veras Larsen rolled back the years to add the Olympic gold to his 2004 title when he powered past the favorite, Canada’s Adam van Koeverden, to win the kayak single 1,000m in a thrilling first race.
The result was a bitter blow for Van Koeverden, Canada’s face of the Games, who was seeking to atone for his disappointing showing in Beijing when he finished in eighth place having been dropped by the field.
“I will take positives from getting silver,” he said, after briefly breaking away from reporters to hug his mother. “If you think you’re better than someone else because you beat them by 0.6 seconds, you’re not. You’re just luckier.”
The silver for Van Koeverden added to the Canadian kayakers gold, silver and bronze he won in Athens and Beijing.
In the second final of the day, Germany took the top spot on the podium when Sebastian Brendel moved through the field to win the men’s C1 final, beating Spain’s David Cal Figueroa into second, to add a silver medal to the gold he won in Athens and the three silvers he already holds.
Canada’s Mark Oldershaw, a close friend and training partner of Van Koeverden, won the bronze, 64 years after his grandfather raced at the London Games in 1948.
Oldershaw was continuing a family Olympic tradition under the watchful eye of his dad, who along with two uncles also competed at the Games.