It’s been a year since Mark de Jonge’s life was altered by 36.657 breathtaking seconds on the waters of Eton Dorney.
He trained for years for that moment at the London Games. He put his engineering career on hold to chase a dream. He made sacrifices large and small.
And in 36.657 seconds, it was over.
Little has changed since then, and everything has changed since then.
The Halifax kayaker, who had to adjust to the celebrity that accompanied winning an Olympic bronze medal, has started the cycle anew, with his eyes cast on the distant horizon of 2016 and Rio de Janeiro.
He’s in Germany now, getting ready for the world sprint canoe-kayak championships, his first since crossing the line third in London. This time, he’s a proven commodity.
“I feel like, I guess, a front-runner, which is a good feeling,” the Maskwa Aquatic Club member said earlier this week in an interview during a brief return to Halifax.
“I think it helps me see myself on the podium a bit better instead of just trying to have a good race and maybe come sort of middle of the pack. So I see that as more of a reality, maybe becoming a world champion this year, at least medalling.
“But it also adds a little bit more pressure, of course, because I have higher expectations after having won that medal. But I’ve always been pretty good under pressure so I’m really looking forward to putting it all together on the big day.”
De Jonge is still a slave to the clock in the unforgiving 200-metre solo (K-1) sprint, where success — or failure — is measured in fractions of a second and one mistake relegates a paddler to also-ran status.
In the Olympic final last summer, just 0.6 seconds separated the front six. Great Britain’s Ed McKeever topped the field in 36.246 seconds.
On June 2 in Poznan, Poland, de Jonge raced to gold in a World Cup final with a time of 36.64 seconds that all but duplicated his Olympic effort.
Two weeks earlier, when he was 0.23 seconds slower, he ended up a disappointing sixth in the World Cup final at Racice, Czech Republic, in 36.87.
He’s one of eight Bluenose paddlers in Duisburg for the world championships that begin Wednesday.
Also representing Canada are Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, Una Lounder of Dartmouth, Michelle Russell of Fall River and Hannah Vaughan of Dartmouth in kayak, Ben Russell and Jason McCoombs, both of Dartmouth, in canoe and Dave Waters of Fox Point in Paracanoe.
De Jonge, 29, races his first heat Friday.
A Calgary native who moved to Nova Scotia as a teen, de Jonge won his first Canadian title in 1999. But he retired from the sport to focus on his engineering job after he was unable to qualify for the Olympic team in 2004 and 2008.
The addition of his signature event, the K-1 200, to the Olympic program brought him back for another shot at his dream.
De Jonge spent most of the summer training in Quebec City. Removed from the mentally draining Olympic pursuit, he and his coach made changes to his training program that have yielded positive results.
“Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been breaking my own world’s best time a few times in training, so I’m really hoping to be able to perform the same way at worlds.”
After placing sixth in the 2011 worlds to secure Canada’s slot in the Olympic 200 field, de Jonge signalled his arrival as a contender by setting a record for the fastest time ever posted for the distance — 33.804 seconds, at national team trials in Montreal.
His standard now is roughly 33.6 seconds.
“If you get a good time, it’s because you have either flat conditions or a bit of a tailwind,” he said. “Any wind coming from the front direction is going to slow you down a lot.
“I’ll have to have good conditions, of course, to break any big times but I know that I can do it so far.
“Duisburg is a pretty narrow course. It has nine lanes and not much else next to it, so it has some good shelter, but with any course, if you get wind coming from the head or behind, you have a long stretch of open water that can affect the times.”
The improvements de Jonge has realized during training sessions give him confidence going into the worlds.
At the same time, he understands that training and competition are two different things.
“I saw at the World Cups this year that there’s a lot of people going really fast this year, so it’s really hard to say where I stand. It’ll be nice just to know how the changes that we’ve made in training have actually affected the outcome at the end of the day.”
De Jonge was home for parts of five days before leaving Wednesday for Germany, planning the early getaway so he’d have plenty of opportunity to train and to get accustomed to the five-hour time difference between Halifax and Duisburg.
“It has a huge impact on your performance, and going over a bit earlier helps a lot,” said de Jonge, who blamed the poor result in his first World Cup race this spring in part on his late arrival and failure to adjust to the time change.
While he’s in Germany, he’ll miss the Canadian championships being staged at the same time in Montreal.
The 2013 worlds were originally slated to be held in Brazil a week before the Canadian regatta. But the international organizing body was forced to find a new host — and change the date by one week — when it was determined that the Rio de Janeiro course wouldn’t be upgraded in time. The Canadian championships then couldn’t be rescheduled due to venue availability.
By Brian Freeman for the Chronicle Herald