Bird sets cat amongst the pigeons

Published 19 August 2016 (AEDT)

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Stephen Bird of Australia competes in the Men's Kayak Single 200m on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Lagoa Stadium on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. © 2016 Getty Images

SPRINT CANOE: Stephen Bird flew into the decider of the men’s K1 200m with a second place in the semi-finals to reach the first individual A-Final of his career.

Australia, looking to defend its title in the men’s K4 1000m, also had a thrilling semi-final win to secure a berth in tomorrow’s A-Final, while the C2 1000m duo of Martin Marinov and Ferenc Szekszardi finished fifth in their semi-final, progressing to the B-Final.

Men’s K1 200m
Following a personal best time of 34.65 secs in his heat earlier in the morning, Stephen Bird required a top four finish in his semi-final to progress to the A-Final.

Competing at his second Olympic Games, Bird flew out the start with a flurry of clean strokes to compete for the early lead.

Bird held his form throughout the race, setting another personal best of 34.58 to cross the line in second place and qualify for the Olympic Final.

“This does wonders for my personal belief, coming from the underdog position," Bird said. "I’ll sleep excited tonight. Last night it was a nervous sleep, tonight it will definitely be an excited sleep.”

Bird, who is coached in Rio by his London 2012 K2 partner, Jesse Phillips, said he felt good ahead of his race in rough conditions on the Lagoa.

“I felt super calm on the start line and I managed to get some good strokes in on some very bumpy water from the start. But gee, I’ve exceeded my expectations already,” said Bird.

“My first goal here was to get out of the heat to be honest. I looked at the heat line up and I thought ‘Jeepers, you’re going to have to have your best race ever to get out of this heat, considering the pedigree’, but this goes to show there’s a lot happening at the Olympics.

Bird will aim to take home Australia’s first ever medal in the K1 200m tomorrow when he races at 9.07am Local Time (22.07 AEST). He will take on paddlers from Canada, Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain, Spain and Latvia.

Men’s C2 1000m
Martin Martinov and Ferenc Szekszardi bowed out of A-Final contention in very rough conditions that made canoe racing challenging on the Lagoa course.

The veteran canoeists took on crews from Poland, Russia, Cuba and Uzbekistan in their semi-final after finishing 5th in their heat. The semi-final was led from start to finish by Cuba, with the Australians finishing in fifth place.

Szekszardi said he was thrilled to put on the green and gold for Australia this week and will give his all in the B-Final.

“I still feel like I’m living the dream, that doesn’t leave me for a moment. It was an amazing experience to line up at the 1000m mark in a boat again, at the Olympic Games, and I’m looking forward to racing tomorrow,” said Szekszardi.

Men’s K4 1000m
Australia are the defending Olympic champions in the event but the crew has a new feel to it with Jacob Clear the only remaining athlete from 2012. The 2016 crew has Clear joined by three-time Olympian Ken Wallace and Olympic debutants Riley Fitzsimmons and Jordan Wood.

Early in the morning the Australians finished in third place behind the powerful Germans and Slovakia, which placed them into the semi-final.

Needing a top three finish, the Australians started well and were in the lead at the 250m mark, but had been passed by Portugal at the halfway point.

The Australians showed their calibre in the final quarter of the race to close the gap on Portugal to win the semi-final in a photo finish.

“We expected to have a tough heat with Germany and Slovakia in there and we also expected to race the semi-final, which I think has worked out well for us, as it gave Jordan, Riley and Jacob an extra hit out,” said Wallace.

“Conditions in the semi-final meant our race plan went out the window, so we had to hack our way down the course, as it was so windy and bumpy. It’s like a washing machine out there. I’d prefer flat conditions obviously but as long as the conditions are fair, I don’t care what it’s like out there.”

Clear admitted it had been a long four-year wait to defend his Olympic title.

“I’m excited more so now we’ve been able to race after Riley [Fitzsimmons] and I have had to sit on the bank for the earlier part of the week and watch everyone else race,” Clear said.

“I’m happy with today and am really looking forward to tomorrow. It’ s a big pressure race, the semi-final, as everyone puts everything in it to make the final. It’s great that we held it together so well in that semi-final, it’s good signs for tomorrow.”

Australia will race the A-Final of the men’s K4 1000m at 10.12am local time (23.12 AEST) from lane 3.

Lucy Benjamin

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