All eyes on Olympian de Jonge
UPDATED 5:29 a.m. Saturday
Anybody who has ever seen paddler Mark de Jonge knows he has the shoulders of a Greek god.
Halifax’s de Jonge, who entered the 2012 Olympics as Nova Scotia’s best hope for a medal, will start the K-1 (kayak singles) 200-metre final as one of the favourites after winning his heat and his semifinal on Friday morning at Eton Dorney.
De Jonge, a 28-year-old sprint kayaker who calls Maskwa Aquatic Club home when he is in Nova Scotia, has the best time ever recorded at the distance in 33.804 seconds.
(Supporters gathered Friday morning at the Maskwa club to watch Mark de Jonge in Olympic action)
Not only will the eyes of Nova Scotia be on de Jonge, the eyes of the nation, hungry for gold in something other than trampoline in these Olympics, will be on him as well.
He’ll be one of two Nova Scotians at Eton Dorney this morning as Windsor’s Ryan Cochrane and teammate Hugues Fournel of Quebec advanced to the final of the K-2 200.
“It’s a pretty incredible feeling, really,” de Jonge said of racing for a medal today. “I’m just trying to contain it all at this point, trying not to make too big a deal of it. I’ll go back and try not to think about racing this afternoon and I’ll save up some energy for (today).”
De Jonge will start today’s events at 5:30 a.m. Atlantic time, while Cochrane and Fournel set out at 6:41 a.m. Both are aware of the wild support they are receiving from Nova Scotia.
More than 20,000 fans packed sun-soaked Eton Dorney to watch the 200-metre races, being contested for the first time in an Olympic Games.
De Jonge has overcome much to get his opportunity for Olympic gold. He put his engineering career on hold to return full time to his chosen sport. Then, after returning to top form in the winter after much of three years away, he broke a finger in a training accident and nearly missed his chance.
The injury cost him much of the international competition season.
He won his semifinal by two one-hundredths of a second over Spain’s Saul Craviotto Rivero. He posted a time of 35.595.
“It was a well-executed race and it was really good to have people there pushing me the whole way,” de Jonge said. “It’s my first international race, so I wasn’t used to that level of competition this year. It’s just going to keep me focused for the final.”
De Jonge knows he can shave time off his Friday performance, but wasn’t inclined to make predictions.
“No, in order to make the final you have to give everything you have,” he said, denying he held something in reserve. “I don’t know. We’ll see what happens (today).”
He said getting to the final is incredible after his year came so close to being derailed. Before Friday, he hadn’t been in an international competition since early March in Portugal.
“I think back to the whole year, and all the years leading up to this moment, it’s really precious,” he said.
De Jonge has talked openly about winning a medal.
“I’d be disappointed if I didn’t really have the best performance I could,” he said. “For me, it’s just being proud of what I did in the Olympics and hopefully that translates into a medal.”
Cochrane and Fournel needed to be in the top four in the semifinals and they finished fourth in a time of 33.500. They were 1.49 seconds behind the winning Russian duo.
Cochrane believes the pair has something more in store and will be confident setting out today.
“We definitely have a better race waiting for us (today),” said the 29-year-old Cochrane, who began his paddling career in Nova Scotia but now trains in Quebec. “We didn’t have our best performance. Typically when you are at a competition like this, you have one performance that stands out and we haven’t had that yet. So it has to be (today).”
He said he’s been enjoying the support from home.
“Thank you very much Pisiquid. Thank you to Windsor. Thank you to all of Nova Scotia. I’m not going to let you down (today).”
“It’s mine. I’m going to take it. Why not me?”
De Jonge, operating in warm, still and humid conditions, got Friday morning started with a 35.396 to win his opening heat by more than half a second over Poland’s Piotr Siemionowski, the 2011 world champion.
Cochrane and Fournel qualified for the semifinals with a fourth-place run in their heat with a 33.407.