Britain’s Joseph Clarke is the fastest slalom kayaker in the world

Light rain fell on a cool 66 degree day in Rio as Joseph Clarke bowed his head to accept his first Olympic gold medal during the victory ceremony for the men’s kayak single final in canoe/kayak slalom.

The man who missed a gate in the first run of heats and accrued a 50-second penalty was an unlikely candidate for gold, but as Britain’s national anthem played throughout Whitewater Stadium, Clarke exhaled deep breaths of emotion and celebrated.

After the 50-second penalty, Clarke improved dramatically; he finished second overall in the heats and third overall in the semifinal. In the final, he crossed the finish in the fastest time, clocking in at 88.53 seconds.

Clarke is now Britain’s first men’s K1 Olympic champion.

Winning the silver medal, Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer, screamed in exhilaration as he crossed the finish line in 88.70 seconds in the K1 final. The 2009 and 2011 world champion and top world ranked paddler in the field at number five, proved he had what it takes to maintain his reputation. He took the lead over London Games bronze medalist, Hannes Aigner of Germany, who finished in fourth in the final with a time of 89.02.

Slovakia’s Jakub Grigar and Jiri Prskavec of the Czech Republic went into the Rio Games as the heavy favorites, and both lives up to their reputations in the semifinal, where Grigar finished first and Prskavec second.

Prskavec, the reigning world and European champion, had the fastest raw time (86.99) of the day, which would have awarded him the gold medal had he not incurred a crushing two-second penalty for touching a gate. Prskavec ultimately won bronze.

As for Grigar, he couldn’t match the pace in the final, coming in fifth with a time of 89.43.

Athletes that compete in the canoe/kayak slalom competition are allowed a total of 55 days of training on the Rio course, but it wasn’t enough training for the 23-year-old, Clarke.

According to The Independent Digital News and Media, Clarke joined New Zealand’s Mike Dawson, also an Olympic finalist in the K1, on an extreme journey to further prepare for the Rio Games and improve their skills. They set off to the Whataroa River in New Zealand, notorious for dangerous and harsh whitewater, and that preparation paid off.

At the end of the final, hugs were exchanged in a congratulatory fashion at the bottom of the course from all the floating finalists.

American Michal Smolen, who was the bronze medal favorite, advanced to the semifinal, but failed to make the final.