Last week Olympic whitewater paddling sensation Tony Estanguet said on his Twitter account: “I put my boat away. Retired at 34! Thanks to my family, my sponsors and to you all for this nice story.”
The Frenchman, who won his third Olympic gold medal this summer at the London 2012 Olympic Games, became the first French athlete to win three Olympic titles in the same discipline, having won gold in Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004. He also has three World and European Championship gold medals to his credit.
Estanguet comes from a Canoeing pedigree, introduced to the sport at a young age in Pau, France, by his father Henri, who won silver and bronze medals for France in the Wildwater Canoeing World Championships in the late 1970s. His brother Patrice won a bronze medal in Canoe Slalom at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
“An amazing career by an amazingly talented and well respected person,” said ICF President Jose Perurena. “He has done so much for the publicity and image for our sport, His battles and rivalry with Michal Martikan are legendary. We wish him luck in his future endeavours.”
Estanguet’s illustrous career really took off at the Sydney Games when, despite touching a gate in the second half of the course in the Men’s C1 final, he kept his composure to win his first Olympic gold medal. With an ongoing rivalry with the talented Michal Martikan of Slovakia, the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 added another chapter to the Frenchman’s storied career and turned him into an iconic personality. After some stunning performances by competitors that day, Martikan looked set to reclaim his status as Olympic Champion, with Estanguet taking second place. However, an objection by a judge claimed that Martikan’s helmet touched a gate and cast his victory into doubt. A video review of his final run confirmed this claim, dropping Martikan to a mere 12- hundredth of a second behind Estanguet, allowing him to defend his Olympic title and claim another Gold.
After the Beijing Games Estanguet increased his activities in the international sport arena, taking part in the IOC’s Singapore 2010 Athlete Role Models (ARMs) for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG). Included in this programme were several legendary athletes from the world of sport.
In the year leading up to London 2012, there were questions about his ability to return to to the top of the sport but his commitment was confirmed this summer when he won a historic 3rd gold medal.
Estanguet was elected to the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission during the Games, but a technical dispute put this position on hold until a decision is taken in January 2013, which means he will serve an eight year term as an IOC member once the election results are confirmed.