According to Carter Robinson of the Gaming Post on Thursday, progress is being made with the possibility of including women’s canoeing as an Olympic sport for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, one of Canada’s best chances of an Olympic gold medal will come in men’s kayaking, specifically the men’s 200m kayaking event, where Mark de Jonge is one of the world’s best.
de Jonge won a gold medal for Canada in men’s 200 metre kayaking at the 2014 and 2015 World Championships and a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. By winning the 2015 World Championship, de Jonge was the Calgary Sports Examiner athlete of the year. The honour goes to the best athlete each year who is a Calgary native. Following is an interview with de Jonge, who currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In your first Olympic experience you reached the podium. How gratifying was it for you to win the bronze medal in the men’s 200 metres in kayaking at the 2012 Olympic Games in London?
“What I remember in London was quite gratifying. I already had a career in the 500 metre and 1000 metre events, and stepped back from the sport for a little bit. I worked for a few years and made a comeback in 2011. It was pretty satisfying having gone through all that and then stepping on to the Olympic podium.”
You enter the 2016 Olympic Games as the reigning world champion. Does the status of world champion bring any added pressure?
“For sure it does. I’m trying to see it in a positive light knowing that I am one of the favourites to win. That gives me confidence to know I have what it takes to win for this year as well. I’m definitely not banking on the fact that just because I went fast last year, that I will go fast this year as well.”
At the 2015 Canoe Sprint World Championships, you won a gold medal for the second consecutive year. What are your fondest memories of the 2015 World Championship in Milan?
“My fondest memory was knowing that I won. You don’t often cross the line knowing you are in a specific spot ever. Most times it takes time for the results to come in. Right off the bat, I was flying. Just that sense of knowing I had a near perfect race at the World Championship really keeps me motivated today.”
You also won a gold medal in the men’s 200 metre kayaking event at the 2014 Canoe Sprint World Championships in Moscow. What do you remember most of setting a World Record with a time of 33.961 seconds?
“The 2014 World Championship was really rewarding. I had work to do and I got it done. That was the first time I was the best in the world at anything. I remember not being able to wipe the smile off my face all day. I was going around high fiving everyone. I am also very happy about being to set the world record in the semi-finals. It is always based on the conditions.”
You are obviously very busy presently. How is your training going at the moment?
“I am down in Florida, so I have escaped winter officially. We are on the water here because we cannot paddle in Canada right now. I will be here until May, when we start to compete in Canada. Then I will start to compete at World Cups.”
The 200m race is the shortest distance in Olympic kayaking competition. How important is the start?
“The start is crucial really, but the entire race is crucial. There is not any room for error. If there is one bad stroke, you regularly lose the race. I am currently working on all parts of my racing, the start included, just to make sure there is no time left that I need to make up.”
Tell me a little bit about your training. Is there anything specific you are working on within your training that you will hope will speed up your time?
“We sort of figured out what works for me in order to train throughout the year. I am just trying to stay calm this year, knowing that we have the right formula. I am trying to stick to that and got get too anxious about the upcoming Olympics. With it being an Olympic year, there is a little more stress. I am just trying to work on what has worked in the past and stick with that game plan. That is what we’re working with.”
You will have strong challengers in Rio. What can you tell me about your two strongest rivals in the men’s canoeing competition—Maxime Beaumont of France and Petter Menning of Sweden?
“They are both down in Florida as well. I know they are training really hard and are gifted athletes. I know I can’t walk away with it at the Olympics if I’m racing those guys. They will keep me on my toes. That’s for sure. Seeing them everyday down here keeps it fresh in my mind that I have to do everything that I can to beat those guys.”
There has been a lot of discussion that the course for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro might be environmentally unsafe because of the pollution in the water. Is that something you are concerned about?
“I am not too concerned about the water quality there. When I was down there in September, there were no cases of anybody being sick from the water. In my event particularly, there is not a lot of splashing, so there aren’t a lot of risks. I am not getting any water in my face.”
Lately the Zika virus has made headlines. Do you have any concerns about this particular virus?
“Yeah, it’s obviously a concern going into a place where there is so much talk about getting a virus that is potentially harmful. That’s a bit concerning. I will just try and stay up to date on the news about the virus. It may not be something I will have to be worried about.”
You will be competing on August 19 and 20. What are your goals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro?
“I want to say my goal is to win. However that is not necessarily in my control. I plan to show up and race to the best of my abilities. If I can do that, hopefully that will translate into a win.”