Fun and games for champion Clarke but focus remains on canoe slalom
Canoe Slalom

Fun and games for champion Clarke but focus remains on canoe slalom

21 December 2016 / 08:17

Slalom canoeist Joe Clarke’s feet have hardly touched the ground in the 133 days since he won Team GB’s second gold of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

There have been encounters with sporting heroes, stints on Strictly Come Dancing, not to mention numerous appearances at awards ceremonies and sporting functions.

He has certainly been enjoying himself but it’s not a sign that the 24-year-old from Staffordshire is done on the water yet, despite achieving the greatest prize in the sport.

“The coach and I have already sat down and Tokyo is already on the radar straight away. Training starts very soon, the plans have been put in place,” he explained.

Clarke’s world changed on August 10 2016 when the British number one paddled his way to kayak K1 gold at the Whitewater Stadium.

Before then, he had only ever medalled at World and European level in the team events but he changed all that by winning Britain’s first Olympic medal in the men’s K1 since Campbell Walsh at Athens 2004, and their first ever gold in the discipline.

Suddenly, at his maiden Olympic Games, Clarke was a man in demand.

“It’s been pretty crazy, we went out there to do our job and then off the back of it all this crazy stuff comes,” he said.

“I met Michael Johnson in a really nice restaurant. I saw him and asked him for a selfie and he kind of rolled his eyes. He then asked me how I got on, so I undid my jacket and showed him my gold medal.

“He was like ‘oh my god’ and then he was asking me for a selfie, and he tweeted me and followed me, and then he came over to my table and I had bottles of champagne and he said he wanted to toast my mum and dad. It was such a story. I’ve read his autobiography and it gave me motivation when I was younger.

“To meet you hero and he then treats you like his hero is a nice story I’ll always have.”

The attention did not stop upon his return to British shores either, getting a heroes’ reception, an invitation to train with his home club Stoke City while also swapping the water for the dancefloor for the Children in Need edition of Strictly Come Dancing.

You would not blame him for getting caught up in it all but Clarke, who took up the sport as an 11-year-old and trains for more than 20 hours a week, insists canoe slalom was never far from his mind.

“It’s been fantastic, especially to be able to put canoeing on the map because it’s quite a bit of a niche sport," he said.

"Strictly Come Dancing helped to do that, I got quite a lot of comments and quite a lot of praise as well which was nice. I’m an upper body athlete primarily so to go out there and try and strut my stuff was quite funny.

“I was nervous, it was completely out of my comfort zone. The main thing was it was raising money for Children in Need and it was also raising the profile of the sport.”

Another perk of being Olympic champion is that Clarke is already pre-selected for the British senior team for next season, meaning he has been able to make the most of the last few months in the spotlight.

But the new year will see him return to training in earnest and, while he will be the man to beat, the Olympic champion is taking it all in his stride.

“Obviously we’re starting from a completely different place from what we did when I joined the senior set up in the years before Rio.” he said.

“I think it’s very positive, everything’s going in the right direction and everything is bright for me.

“I’m 24 years old, if I never did it again, no one can take that gold away from me from Rio.

“So that almost takes a little bit of pressure off me for my second or third Olympics.”

Sportsbeat 2016 

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