Joe Clarke.  Photo: Courtesy Joe Clarke

joe clarke olympic gold medal kayak

Joe Clarke is not a name that many outside of the world of kayaking would have known until yesterday. This morning however, with his face splashed across the front pages of almost every national newspaper, is a completely different story.

Joe Clarke Newspaper Front Pages

Joe Clarke Newspaper Front Pages

Yesterday evening the 23-year-old from Staffordshire paddled the race of his life to take the gold medal in the K1 canoe slalom - the individual kayak race - at the Rio White Water centre. Having made it through Sunday's heats safely, Joe looked excellent in yesterday's semi-final, qualifying in third place.

From that solid starting position he then had an absolute blinder of a race, ripping through the gates to set a time of 88.53 seconds. But despite not putting a paddle stroke wrong, Joe still faced an agonising wait while the final two competitors - Slovenia’s Peter Kauser and Czech Republic's Jiri Prskavec - headed down the course.

"Despite not putting a paddle stroke wrong, Joe still faced an agonising wait while the final two competitors headed down the course."

He knew he'd done well, but not even he dared to dream that the two paddlers who'd qualified above him would struggle to match his time. “When I crossed the line and knew I had a bronze I was absolutely ecstatic," he said. "It got even better when that upgraded to a silver and then upgraded to a gold." Kauser finished 0.17 seconds behind Clarke, while Prskavec incurred a two-second penalty on one of the gates and had to settle for bronze.

The reaction from his team-mates and on Twitter showed just how exciting the win was for everyone involved. While not totally out of the blue, it was certainly not expected. Clarke had taken bronze medals at world championship level in 2014 and 2015, but only in team events.

Joe in action in training. Photo: Courtesy Joe Clarke

joe clarke olympic gold medal kayak 2

Conventional wisdom suggested that the older and more experienced David Florence, who eventually finished 10th in yesterday's C1 event, was the best chance of an individual olympic medal in the canoeing events at Rio. 

But when it came down to it, it was the younger man - who got his first taste of canoeing as a cub scout and then had to beg his local club to let him in - who took home the top prize. It's the UK's first individual kayaking medal of any colour for 12 years.

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