On the water, all the time, searching for gold
When kayak speedster Adam Van Koeverden takes to the water Aug. 6 in London, Brian Malfesi will be watching closely.
Not just because he wants to see the Ontario paddler win gold for Canada in a sport that he loves, but to see if there are any technical tips to be gleaned from the high-intensity race.
Malfesi and other members of Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club scrutinize videos of world championships as part of a constant attempt to balance strength and speed with the perfect paddling technique that will move a kayak through the water most efficiently.
While Van Koeverden gets ready for the K-1 (single-person kayak) 1,000-metre event, Malfesi is preparing for national championships in Nova Scotia this month, when he’ll compete in the one- and two-person kayak events over 200-, 500- and 1,000-metre distances.
But that’s just a short-term goal.
Four years from now, Malfesi wants to be paddling for a gold medal when the Summer Olympics roll again in Brazil in 2016.
“I just like the way you push yourself to the limit basically … and it’s fun,” he says.
“You can push yourself as an individual and as part of a team, but as you push yourself, you’re also pushing others.”
Winning a spot on the national senior team and qualifying for a spot for the next Summer Games is an arduous process that requires year-round training and getting to several meets a year. Malfesi, 18, is already on the senior development team.
The Games, though, already are inspiring.
“It’s pretty cool to see them and realize that they’re just normal people.”
And if normal people can win medals, so can Malfesi.
“I was watching [swimmer] Brent Hayden and that was pretty sweet.
“He’s from Mission and able to do it, so why can’t I?”
Ridge Canoe and Kayak Club head coach Peter Majewski said Van Koeverden is an example for a lot of young kids at the club and for Malfesi.
“It’s big motivation for him, for sure.”
Malfesi, studying engineering at SFU, has been in competitive kayaking for seven years. Two years ago, he won the K1 1,000-metre event at the junior national championships in Regina and last year came 14th in the K-4, 1,000-metre event at the Junior World Championships in Brandenburg, Germany. His favourite event is the 1,000 metres.
In the shorter distances, which require a higher stroke rate, raw power works best.
“I’m more of an endurance person.”
While Malfesi is stoked, the executive-director of CanoeKayak BC hasn’t seen a huge Olympic-inspired interest in the sport, Mary Jane Abbott says from her Maple Ridge office.
With the weather as bad as its been, many clubs were struggling with membership recruitment this summer.
“But I don’t know that I would say we’ve seen any impact from the Olympics yet. I think because it [canoe and kayak events] hasn’t happened yet.”
But CanoeKayak BC is reaching out to get more kids on to the water.
Its Canoe Kids on the Road program visits communities throughout B.C. to try to spark the creation of local canoeing clubs, with an attempt to reach out to First Nations communities.
“Canoeing is one of their traditional sports and they just need some help rediscovering that,” Abbott said.
This year, one of their summer students (for the road program) is Cory Hamilton, who came second fastest to Adam Van Koeverden in Olympic qualifying.
“So we’re pretty excited about the fact he’ll be there to be their colour commentator.”
Abbott said that canoe and kayak club membership is about 5,000, B.C.-wide, spread throughout 19 clubs.
The Pitt Meadows Paddling Club recently hosted the B.C. Summer Games at its base on the Alouette River, while the national championships take place Aug. 22-25 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Abbott said the 25-plus category is the fastest-growing and most stable area of membership.
“I think it appeals to everyone.
“It’s one of those sports for life that you can do forever and you pick the part of it that appeals the most to you.”
There’s no lack of enthusiasm from Van Koeverden as he gets ready for the 1,000-metre K-1 event.
“I’m extremely stoked to be part of this Canadian Olympic Team. We are a relentless batch of never-say-die-ers,” he says on his blog.
“We are fierce breed of laser-eyed and medal-hungry mutant superheroes. We are finely tuned mob of world-class racing, jumping, throwing automatons. We are a ferocious and unbreakable pack of crazed rabid wolves. We are The Canadian Olympic Team.”
Van Koeverden has won three Olympic medals – gold in the 500-metre event in 2004 in Athens, silver in the same event in Beijing in 2008 and bronze in 1,000 metres in Athens.