Adam Van Koeverden life and biography

Adam van Koeverden  picture, image, poster

Adam Van Koeverden biography

Date of birth : 1982-01-29
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Ontario, Canada
Nationality : Canadian
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-06-17
Credited as : Sprint kayaker, won 500-metre races at the Athens Olympic Games,

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Adam Joseph van Koeverden (born January 29, 1982) is a Canadian sprint kayaker. He was born in Oakville, Ontario to a Dutch father and a Hungarian mother. His home club is the Burloak Canoe Club in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

When 13-year-old Adam van Koeverden of Oakville, Ontario, stepped into a canoe on Sixteen-Mile Creek and started paddling, he didn't realize that he was starting a journey that would culminate nine years later in a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games. The Grade 7 student was simply looking for something to do, and he joined the Burloak Canoe Club after his mother, Beata Bokrossy, spotted the club's ad in the community newspaper and encouraged her son to give the sport a try.

For Bokrossy, canoeing was an activity to keep her teenage son busy and out of trouble. "I didn't think team sports was so much of an attraction for him," she told Jon Kuiperij of the Oakville Beaver. "If anything went wrong, he'd always blame himself, and that's not a team attitude. I was specifically looking for a sport you do as a team [and also] as an individual. It truly was a matter of luck because I was not aware of canoe and kayak in Canada previous to seeing the invitation to the open house."

No one in van Koeverden's family, which is Hungarian on his mother's side and Dutch on his father's, had ever participated in canoeing, but his mother's father had been on Hungary's national fencing team and would probably have gone to the Olympics if the Hungarian Revolution hadn't erupted. "[My grandfather] bought me my first paddle," van Koeverden told Randy Starkman of the Toronto Star. "I didn't know him very well, but he was very supportive. I think about him a lot."

Still, van Koeverden is only half-joking when he credits his Hungarian heritage with helping him achieve success. Hungarians have always done well in international canoeing and kayaking. "It's pretty cool when I talk to Hungarian kayakers now," he told Starkman. "I'm half Hungarian. They say, 'That's why you're so fast.' If there's kayaking genes, they definitely predominate in the Hungarian gene pool."

Though van Koeverden's potential wasn't immediately apparent, Burloak coach and former Olympic kayaker Dean Oldershaw, who ran the club's junior program, thought he detected a special mental toughness in the skinny kid. "If he couldn't make a workout, he'd phone me and ask me what he could do instead," Oldershaw told Jacquie De Almeida of the Hamilton Spectator. "I went 'Holy cow' and would give him something to do, usually running, and he'd go out early in the morning all by himself in the snow."

Oldershaw, whose brother Scott is now van Koeverden's coach, said that the kayaker "took everything we conveyed to him, and he actually did it ... He enjoys training, not just the process but the end results."

Though van Koeverden trained hard, his efforts didn't pay off immediately, and his rise to membership in the world's kayaking elite was a long, tough slog. When he was 18, he won a bronze medal at the world junior championships but failed to make the cut for the 2000 Canadian Olympic team. In 2001 and 2002, he was unbeaten in Canada, but he remained an unsung also-ran at international competitions.

With the 2004 Olympics on the horizon, however, van Koeverden decided to step up his efforts and find a way to train with the best. In doing so, he became one of Canada's so-called Kraft-Dinner athletes, competitors who finance their training out of their own pockets because they receive little or no public funding.

The kayaker decided to set aside his kinesiology studies at McMaster University and, somehow, scraped together the money to fly to Australia for the winter, to Europe for the summer, and to Florida for another winter. He lived frugally, crashing wherever there was a floor available and wherever he could find a world-class kayaker who would agree to train with him.

"I realized after I didn't make the team in 2000 that I wasn't any different from the great ones from Norway," he told Kernaghan. "I just had to train like them."

In Australia, van Koeverden trained with former world champion Nathan Baggaley and in Norway with another former world champion, Eirik Veraas Larsen, whose tiny Oslo apartment he shared. His training strategy began to pay dividends in 2003, when he had a breakthrough season. He started posting top-10 results in international competitions and won a silver medal in the singles 1,000-metre race at the 2003 world championships, beating Larsen in the process. He also finished sixth in the 500-metre event.

Van Koeverden's improved results were a wakeup call for his Norwegian mentor, who told his protege that he couldn't train with the Norwegian team in 2004. "I chose not to train so much with him because of the big step he made last year," Larsen told Mark Spector of The National Post. "Because I was afraid of him for [for the Olympics], I took the decision and told him that he couldn't train with our group this year. I'm glad I did, because I'm sure he will go faster in the next years."

Van Koeverden's finishes at the world championships were important for another reason: they guaranteed a spot for Canadian kayaks in the K-1 1,000- and 500-metre races at the Athens Olympic Games.

After successfully making it through the preliminary rounds at the Olympics, van Koeverden found himself in the final of both the 1,000- and 500-metre events at Schinias, the flatwater facility. In both races, he faced his older and more experienced former training partners.

The 1,000-metre race was scheduled first, and van Koeverden got off to his trademark jackrabbit start that saw him establish a commanding lead in the first 250 metres. Recalling what had happened at the world championships, Larsen later admitted that he was worried when his rival rocketed out of the starting gate. "It always scares me when [van Koeverden] goes out that fast," Larsen told Spector. "After 100, 200 metres, I saw how far ahead he was and I started thinking about how this race will go."

Larsen needn't have worried, however, for his strength and experience stood him in good stead, and he gradually began reeling in his former roommate. By the 750-metre mark, Larsen had established a half-second lead, and he went on to win the gold medal.

In the end, van Koeverden was also passed by New Zealand's Ben Fouhy, the reigning world champion, who won the silver medal. Still, the Canadian managed to hang on for the bronze.

"I gave it my all --- maybe I gave it a little bit too much [in the first 250 metres]," he told Spector. "Going through 500, I was really dead. It was a heck of a lot faster and harder than I thought it was going to be. Toughest race I've ever raced."

Though he was pleased his result, van Koeverden had no intention of resting on his laurels. "I'm content but not overjoyed," he told reporters after the race. "I was shooting for a medal and I got it, but I just barely got it."

Van Koeverden didn't have long to consider his reactions, for the next day, he was scheduled to race in the 500-metre final. Though the 1,000-metre distance had always been considered his strength, he decided to go for broke in the shorter race. Afterwards, he told reporters: "I remember lining up thinking, You're not done here. You can do better than a bronze."

And he did. At the halfway mark, van Koeverden stood second, just behind Baggaley. In this race, however, the Canadian was not to be denied, and he poured it on over the final 250 metres, finishing more than a half-second ahead of the Australian, who won the silver medal.

Afterwards, van Koeverden told reporters that his performance represented the race of his life. Trying to express the experience in words, he said, "I describe it as pure elation ... We shot for the stars and I think we got there."

The two Olympic medals weren't the only honour for van Koeverden, who was chosen to carry the Canadian flag in the closing ceremonies. After missing the opening ceremonies because he was training in France, he was delighted to be involved in the final event of the Games. "It's an honour and a privilege to be able to lead this team out of the stadium," he told his fellow athletes before they marched out onto the field. "This team in Sydney, with a lot of the same athletes, inspired me to want to make the Olympic team here."

During the Olympics, van Koeverden also spoke out about the disappointing performance of Canadian athletes. "Just being in the finals or being fourth isn't good enough," he told reporters. "We've got to reach higher than that."

To improve the country's record, he said, it isn't enough to throw more money at athletes. "You stick more money in my pocket, it's not going to translate into fewer seconds over 1,000 metres. It's going to translate into a new stereo in my car. It might make me happier, but it's not going to make me faster in the long run."

What Canada needs, he said, is high-performance centres where athletes can train and gain access to other services they need. "We have a great club program ... [but] the difference between a canoe club and a high-performance training centre is the expertise, the goals, the motivation. That's where we're lacking."

Though van Koeverden has returned to his studies at McMaster, he plans to continue competing. At 22, he is still young for a kayaker, and this means that he can look forward to a bright future in the sport.

Besides, he isn't satisfied with his Olympic performance. "It would be hard to go back to motivate myself to train if I had won two golds," he told Maclean's. "But I didn't."

Now that he's an Olympic medal winner, van Koeverden may find the journey to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing a little easier. "I just signed with a big sports marketing firm, IMG, so that means I will be making a little bit of money, but I'll be working for it," he told Donovan Vincent of the Toronto Star in October 2004. "I can do public speaking now. I actually have some clout. I would have done public speaking before, but nobody really cared about a guy who was second in the world championships in kayaking."

Oldershaw says that van Koeverden's performance in Athens means that he will be a force to be reckoned with for many years to come. "If I was a paddler at the top world level, I'd be frightened," Oldershaw told Kuiperij. "[Van Koeverden] was the only singles paddler to win medals in both finals ... he's the king and he's only 22. He's driven. He has goals, but they're not dreams. He dreams, but he turns them into goals and then into reality."

Joined Burloak Canoe Club, Oakville, Ontario, at age 13, 1995; won bronze medal, K-1 1,000m, world junior championships, 1999; posted second-place finishes, K-1 1,000m and K-1 500m, several top-8 finishes in World Cup events, 2003; won silver medal, K-1 1000m, at world championships, 2003; won K-1 1,000m and placed second in K-1 500 m, at World Cup event, Czech Republic, 2004; won bronze medal, K-1 1,000m, and gold medal, K-1 500m, at Athens Summer Olympic Games, 2004.

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