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Florence will not let Rio focus waver

DAVID FLORENCE is wearing his success well.

David Florence in action at the Lee Valley White Water Centre during last year's Olympic Games. Picture: EPA
David Florence in action at the Lee Valley White Water Centre during last year's Olympic Games. Picture: EPA

His Team GB tracksuit is striking even now and carries with it the embellishment of two Olympic medals, quite literally since the Scot has stuffed them into his pockets. Only the straps remain visible but their value is still there for all to see; Florence won silver in canoe slalom at the Beijing Games and then again last year in London, the sight of them enough to ignite a frisson of excitement and then the odd flashback.

His most recent successes are adorned more simply; the 31-year-old smiling broadly as he recounts his performances at the World Championships in Prague in September when he won both the C1 and C2 categories. It would seem proper to detail his final points total in each discipline - Florence scored 102.53 and 114.10 respectively - but that is to ignore the complexities behind his victories. The Aberdeen-born canoeist competes alone in C1 and with crew-mate Richard Hounslow in C2, the varied demands of each meaning that training schedules have to remain separate. Florence effectively works part-time in either boat.

That the World Championships also allow countries to register three boats in each discipline left Florence competing against the odds, too. "It has actually been done once before, in 1953 a Swiss guy [Charles Dussuet] did it. It's pretty serious history," says the Scot, speaking at an event held by Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.

A reference to the past comes naturally since Florence is often asked to look back. Canoe slalom comprises enthralling races and can grip one's interest all the way to the wire, but usually just every four years when the sport comes under the auspices of the Olympics. The attention lingered a little longer than usual last year as Florence joined compatriot Tim Baillie on the podium on the banks of the Lee Valley course, with the latter having won gold in C2 alongside crew-mate Etienne Stott. Their boats were separated by just 0.36 seconds.

Florence might contend that he is way out in front in the race to compete at the next Games - with Baillie to be aged 37 by the time the event reaches Rio in 2016. The sport has a tendency to capsize those who allow their attention to slip, though, and Florence is still given to grimace as he relives a failed attempt to get to the C1 final in London, an event which he had been the favourite to win. It weighs heavily then, but the Scot is intent that his ambitions of reaching Rio will not be similarly sunk.

"It's funny that . . . even if it is going well and you are No.1 or whatever, it doesn't necessarily mean you are going to get to that next Games," he says. "I'm super motivated and after a Games, okay it goes down a bit, but once you are out you think 'Hey, I could go to another one of these. Rio is in a few years, what's that going to be like? That sounds exciting as well'."

The prospect of a canoeist reaching a Games is often articulated by a Scottish accent, with Florence and Baillie following in the wake of such as Campbell Walsh, who won K1 silver at Athens. That journey to success is marked, but it has also veered south initially given a white-water course has not yet been constructed in Scotland for athletes to train on. That will soon change as work continues at the Pinkston site in Glasgow.

"I basically trained on a canal and when you consider that we are training to compete on these big, white-water courses you just can't practise the skills you need to," said Florence, who started out in the sport as a teenager living in Edinburgh. "Yeah you can train hard, but it's just not really good enough. It wasn't until I moved down south to train on white water that I really actually made any significant progress in the sport.

"We've got an incredible track record in Scotland considering the lack of facilities; we had Campbell Walsh; we've got myself winning a couple of medals; Tim [Baillie] winning a medal at the Olympics; and Fiona Pennie, who is an Olympian and then European champion this year. So we've had a lot of success but, without getting some sort of push for facilities, that might dwindle."

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