Team GB Exclusive: Florence inspired by ruthless Rio selection process

Team GB Exclusive: Florence inspired by ruthless Rio selection process

05 November 2015 / 13:08

Double Olympic medallist David Florence insists his hopes of Rio gold have only been enhanced after coming through a demanding selection process.

Florence will lead a small but perfectly formed quartet of canoe slalom paddlers in Rio after edging out Olympic champion Etienne Stott and partner Mark Proctor for the right to race the C2 in Brazil.

A silver medallist from 2008 and 2012 he will make his third Olympic appearance competing in both the C1 and C2 – the latter alongside medal-winning partner at London 2012 Richard Hounslow.

Fiona Pennie, who competed in Beijing but missed out on selection for London, returns in the women's K1 while Joe Clarke is a newcomer in the men's K1.


And 33-year-old Florence accepts his place as the standard bearer of the team, securing his place on the plane with a third career world title on home waters in London a few weeks ago.

"It was a massive challenge just to get to Rio," he said. 

"There was loads of pressure on at the World Championships because it was at home and because it was a crucial part of qualifying, we've got guys who medalled at those championships and aren't going to Rio, which shows how hard it is.

"Past success doesn't really mean much and I certainly don't sit back polishing my medals. My team-mate Ryan Westley was third at the worlds and if I'd not finished first or second he would probably be going and rightly so.

"Our process is totally objective and there is no room for interpretation. You might say that I deserved to go based on past results but coming through a selection process this difficult gives you self-belief.

"I was totally able to accept that I might not go to this Olympics but I wanted to put myself on the line and at the mercy of the process.


"Getting selected is the really hard bit. In many ways it's easier to win a medal at the Olympics than the World Championships because there are less people and the odds are better. This year there were three Slovakians in the top four of the world but only one of them will go to Rio.

"I'm just excited I'm going now. I've spent a lot of time thinking about Rio but I've not allowed myself to get excited but I've ordered my guide books now.

"I've delivered at the Olympics on two occasions, it gives me confidence to know I can do it when the pressure is on."

Florence's two appearances on an Olympic podium give him justifiable cause for confidence but he claims to have learned more from the crushing disappointment of his individual performance in London.

He arrived at the Lee Valley Water Centre ranked number in the world in the C1 discipline, in which he won silver in Beijing. However, he failed to even make the final after a succession of mistakes in the semi-final. However, two days later he returned to win C2 silver with Hounslow, while British team-mates Stott and Tim Baillie took gold.

"It was a massive disappointment and it taught me a lot about myself," he added.

"I'd won the silver four years previously, I was a better athlete, I was faster and more consistent, I was ranked higher in the world and yet I didn't even make the final. I didn't even get a chance to fight for it and it felt like four years hard work wasted.

"It was a phenomenal low, especially because it was a home Games, which really heightened the disappointment. Luckily I had another event and to have been able to refocus and perform just gives you lots of self-belief. I could have dwelled on that disappointment or been too determined to put things right and gone too hard."


Florence's attention to detail is legendary. He learned Russian when he applied to join the European Sport Agency's astronaut programme, crammed Mandarin lessons before Beijing and is already working on his Portuguese, which he'll need as the British team take advantage of 60 training days on the Rio course before next summer, starting at this month's test event.

"In the build-up to Beijing I thought I might retire after those Games," added Florence, who became a father for the first time earlier this year. 

"I wondered whether I wanted to do something else, I'd won my Olympic medal and I thought there could be another challenge. However, after London I had no intention of retiring. I was paddling well and enjoying it.

"I need to have challenges away from the sport, I like to have other things to focus the mind on and I don't want to just be defined by canoeing and the results i achieve. I love the sport and I'm super driven by it but if you took it away tomorrow, I'd have a very happy life." 

- By James Toney, Sportsbeat 

Sportsbeat 2015