After winning four medals for Canada in the past three summer Olympics, including a gold medal in 2004, and eight world championship medals, it's safe to say that kayaker Adam Van Koeverden has nothing left to prove in his sport. And yet, on the eve of his 31st birthday, Van Koeverden could be found at the Canadian Sport Institute gym in Whistler, getting back into shape.
He doesn't know with absolute certainty if he's going to be able to represent Canada at the 2016 Games in Rio, but after a few months off to heal an injured elbow and think things over he was in.
"It's a lot to be asking somebody what they're going to be doing the next three-and-a-half years and I'm not 100 per cent sure, but I'm going to keep training because I love what I'm doing," he said. "I'm getting older, I've got some little things to take care of, like injuries, but I'm going for it. There are never any guarantees in sport and I'm going for it with that in mind.
"I've had a really good career, and if I had to hang up my paddle tomorrow I'd be satisfied and stoked to embrace an active and adventurous lifestyle away from training. But right now I think I'm going to stay in my boat — which I didn't do much last fall, so I have some work to do!"
Van Koeverden doesn't have any specific goals, but then again he never does. He did go into the London Games this summer with the ambition of winning in the 500-metre race, but in the end he said his goal was just to race as hard as he could. "I came second. I got beat by a guy who is a good friend of mine and who really deserved it, and I can't be upset with my performance," he said.
"My goal was to race as well as I could because that's what I can control. I can't control what other guys are doing. Eirik (Larsen) simply went faster than any other guy could have... I tried my best and finished the race completely exhausted; it's what I could do. So my goal going forward is to do my best every single time."
"I'm still paddling because I love my lifestyle, I think I'm still contributing to my squad and there's no reason I can't just set new goals."
Taking three months off only reaffirmed Van Koeverden's commitment. "I got out of shape pretty quickly, and it's a lot more fun to be in shape," he said.
He was also inspired by all the new funding and focus on excellence in Canadian sports, as well as by his role with the Canadian Olympic Committee. One battle he's eager to fight is over tuition: the Canadian Olympic Committee pays post-secondary tuition for active athletes, but may reduce payments because of rising tuition rates across the country. While Van Koeverden earned his degree six years ago, he'd like to work with stakeholders including universities to fully fund the program in the future.
Looking ahead, Van Koeverden's first goal is to find out what's wrong with his elbow that three months of rest couldn't cure. He's seeing a specialist in Toronto, his new hometown, on Monday to try to get to the bottom of it.
After that he has plans to put in some serious mileage, heading to a facility in Cuba to paddle until the competition season gets underway in May.
"I'll probably paddle 2,500 kilometres before I even think about racing," he said. "There's lots to do on the way (to Rio). I have to race the Canadian qualifier again and prove I'm the best in Canada right now, and there are a couple of World Cups in May and June — which maybe I'll skip because I've gone to all of the World Cups since 1999. I'll also do the world championship this year. There's a marathon and a five kilometre at worlds that I would consider doing..."
The Pan-Am Games in Toronto in 2015 are also on his radar, although he says that typically junior or development team members will race in that event. He would like to race in front of a hometown crowd, but if there's a conflict with the World Championships then he would bow out.
"I would love to race in Toronto, but my main concern is to qualify for the Olympics... I can't sacrifice my potential to race in Rio to race in Toronto," he said.
Mixing up the distances is part of the game, especially now that the world sanctioning body has decided to drop the 500-metre kayak event that is Van Koeverden's best event and replace it with a 200-metre sprint. The goal of the organizers, says Van Koeverden, is to make it harder for paddlers to win medals in both distances, and in their view the 500 and 1,000 were too similar.
While Van Koeverden thinks it was a mistake — not the least because he feels double medallists actually draw more attention to the sport — he said he's already over his disappointment.
"I got over it as soon as it happened," he said with a shrug. "Things like that are just not under my control. It's not even an Olympic decision; it came from (the International Canoe Federation), and they didn't really talk to the athletes."
During the two-week Whistler training camp, Van Koeverden has been working out at the gym and cross-training in another shoulder-intensive sport — cross-country skiing. He even did a biathlon course.
He also enjoys being in the mountains so he can snowboard on breaks between training sessions.
But what really brings him to Whistler is the Olympic legacy.
"When a city hosts the Olympics, there's more left behind than just facilities," he said. "There's people employed in sport, there's enthusiasm, there's that sports culture. And this facility is amazing — you walk in and immediately recognize that this is a professional thing that we're doing. That gym is phenomenal, it's got everything you could need."
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