Britain on the board as Liam Heath wins bronze in men’s 200m kayak sprint

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As he crossed the line, Liam Heath smashed the surface of the water with his paddle. By the time he was on the podium, he was kissing his bronze medal with delight.

At 36, he came up short in his quest to be a fifth successful Olympic defence within Team GB in Tokyo, undone by a poor start and the younger men around him.

In what is akin to Usain Bolt on water with a paddle, the kayak 200m sprint is for the fast men on the water. Unfortunately for Heath there were two faster: gold medallist Sandor Totka, from Hungary, and Italian Manfredi Rizza.

Heath turns 37 in two weeks’ time and said a fourth Olympics in Paris could yet be a possibility after picking up his fourth Olympic medal having already completed the set in Rio.

It is a decision he said he would reach with his wife Em and their four-year-old daughter Sarah-Rose, who he readily admitted would be more excited by the Tokyo 2020 mascot he received on the podium than the medal around his neck.

A strong headwind cut across the field making it hard to settle in his bucket at the start and he got away slowly. His middle and final sections brought him into contention in the trademark blanket finish to the event, the result taking an age to appear on the screen.

Of his fluctuating reactions, the former TGI Friday’s barman, whose trademark cocktail is the raspberry mojito, said: “I knew I didn’t have the best start, which was why I was slightly frustrated. I have good starts and bad starts – that’s part and parcel of it.

“The race could have gone a little better for me but, at the end of the day, I am happy with the medal around my neck. There have been ups and downs, and I am happy where I have landed.”

As defending champion for the first time, the experience, he said, was different. While he tried to push that element to the back of your mind, he knew he was a marked man in the field.

“I suppose it’s weighed on me a little bit but not an incredible amount,” he said. “It’s very flattering to have everyone look to you as a beacon of performance and try to emulate and beat you. That’s a very privileged position to be in.”

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