With British-like weather enveloping the hilltop course, Clarke finished ahead of Peter Kauzer of Solvenia in silver and Jiri Prskavec of the Czech Republic in bronze on his Olympic Games debut in blustery conditions more suited to his home town of Stoke-on-Trent than the Deodoro X-Park in Rio de Janeiro.
“To me the weather conditions today were fantastic. They were exactly like Great Britain so it suited me down to the ground,” Clarke said. “These guys come from hotter climates so it probably doesn’t suit them quite as much, but I woke up this morning and said ‘Oh, I’m glad the British weather has come for a good day of racing’.”
Clarke had made an uncertain start to his K1 campaign at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, missing a gate on his first run on Sunday and needing a fast, clean second to even qualify from the heats. He was much more composed on Wednesday, however, advancing to the final in third place before laying down a clear run of 88.53 seconds to move into the gold medal position.
The 23-year-old was then left with an anxious wait on the water for the final two paddlers down the course, including Prskavec, who took the bronze.
“I was on edge but I did my job and I can’t control what they do. I knew I had a bronze and from there it was the silver and then it was the gold, it’s just so amazing,” Clarke said.
Two-time world champion Kauzer expressed his relief at winning only Slovenia’s second medal in canoe slalom, and his first in his third Olympic Games.
“I failed at two Olympics already so I said ‘Let’s see if third time is a charm’ and I guess it was for me today,” said Kauzer, who finished sixth at London 2012 and 13th at Beijing 2008. “I had one small mistake at the bottom. I had bad water so who knows, maybe that was the crucial moment where I lost the gold medal but I don’t care, finally I have a medal.”
Prskavec hit a gate early in his run but the 2015 world champion was the fastest of all the finalists over the water, clocking 88.99 to win the bronze medal by 0.03 seconds ahead of the man who was third in London.
“I didn’t know it was that close but I think I deserved it after touching that gate and speeding in the bottom of the course,” said Prskavec, whose parents both competed for Czech Republic in canoe slalom. “My dad was twice at the Olympics and never got the medal so I am the one who completed his story now.”
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games canoe slalom competition will run to a conclusion on Thursday, with the semifinals and finals in the women’s kayak single and men’s canoe double. Jessica Fox (AUS) is the strong favorite to add an Olympic Games gold medal to the silver she won as an 18-year-old in the same event at London 2012.
In the men’s C2, world No.1 pairing Gauthier KLAUSS and Matthieu PECHE (FRA) and cousins Ladislav SKANTAR and Peter SKANTAR (SVK) will start as favourites, although London 2012 silver medallist David FLORENCE (GBR) and his partner Richard HOUNSLOW (GBR) will hope to emulate Timothy BAILLIE and Etienne STOTT (GBR). BAILLIE and STOTT’s gold medal at London 2012 was Great Britain’s only in the sport until CLARKE added another on Wednesday.