Halifax kayaker Mark de Jonge qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Saturday—and the Olympic bronze medalist is now on the hunt for gold.
“My goal this year isn’t just to make it to the Olympics,” de Jonge said on Sunday.
“It’s to do well at the Olympics.”
Just the day before he won the Men’s K1 200-metre final at qualifying races in Gainesville, Georgia.
“Having the first step out of the way is pretty satisfying,” he said in a phone interview.
With de Jonge winning bronze in the 2012 London Olympic games, eager fans may be expecting him to repeat, or even better that medal placement. This could mean added pressure for a kayak sprinter whose race is decided in about 100 strokes over just 34 seconds—but he’s not feeling the heat.
“I haven’t really felt the pressure yet,” de Jonge says.
He expects there will be more as the Olympic games near. “I think it’s important to stay focused on the process, and hopefully that will lead to a good outcome.”
This process includes rigorous training two or three times a day, six days a week. De Jonge also needs to pace himself, as he’s in for quite the busy year of competitions.
Beginning in just two weeks, he will be competing at three World Cups in Europe on consecutive weekends. Since winning the Olympic bronze, de Jonge won a silver at the 2013 Worlds, followed by two gold medals in 2014 and 2015.
“It’s a big year, and we are ready to put the pedal to the metal as they say,” De Jonge said.
When looking ahead to Rio, he says he has great confidence in the way Canada’s Olympic team is shaping up.
Émilie Fournel qualified last Thursday after winning the women’s K1 500-metre race. Top contenders include the likes of Ryan Cochrane of Windsor for the Men’s K2 200-metre and Marshall Hughes from Waverley for the K2 1000-metre.
The next opportunity to fill out the team will be on May 19 and 20 at the Continental qualifier between all the Pan Am countries. Qualifying races continue into June. Canada’s Olympic team can have a maximum of 10 kayakers.
De Jonge knows that regardless of the outcome, Nova Scotia will always have his back. “It’s really helped my race knowing I have all that support back home.”
He remembers after the 2012 games, when he was greeted by a crowd of cheering supporters as he arrived in his hometown.
“It touches pretty deep just to have that support.”