Canoe-Kayak Sprint

Q & A with Mark Oldershaw, London 2012 Olympic Medalist

by Tom Hall on October 30, 2012

The following is the first of a series of Q & A pieces of national team athletes I’m doing for SportCafe.ca

During the week of August 20th, at the 2012 Canoe Kayak National Championships, in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, I tried to interview some retiring athletes. Mark had just come home from winning the Bronze medal in the C1-1000m, and though I was pretty sure he wasn’t retiring, I thought it would be interesting to hear what he had to say.

In London, Mark mounted the international podium at a premier international competition for the first time since he was Junior. The sport of sprint canoe, like many sports, can be a fickle one; wind, waves, or simply a bad sleep can end a year’s work in a few bad strokes. Mark, like many others, has dealt with these challenges and more. A double Junior World champion, an obvious hopeful for the senior team and Olympic games, Mark experienced a set back with a hand problem, which forced him to cutback on his training for a few years.

In 2004, Mark was back on track and began his senior carrier in earnest. A medal hopeful at the 2008 Olympics, Mark had some bad luck, which ended his games early. After a couple of months, Mark renewed his focus and made a four-year plan, which would get him on the podium.  What follows is the transcript from my interview with Mark about London, his journey to London, and his future plans.

Tomas Hall: Can you introduce yourself?
Mark Oldershaw: Sure, my name is Mark Olderhsaw and I race the C1 1000M. I won a bronze medal for Canada at the London Olympics. I’m from Burlington Ontario.

TH:  Everyone in the community knows your family history in Canoe Kayak (Mark’s grandfather, father and two uncles competed at the games). What’s your first memory of canoeing?
MO: I think it’s going to the basin in Montreal as a little kid. I don’t remember any of the races, I just remember going off with my brother and cousins, and going on an adventure and getting lost. It was a great time.

TH: Was that in the 80s?
MO: Yeah must have been late 80s.

TH: When was you’re first nationals?
MH: First nationals was ‘95. I just raced war canoe, midget war canoe.

TH: Cool, same as mine. So you were a strong midget (15-16), strong juvenile (17-18), then junior worlds for you, in 2001, was a really big deal. Do you want to just tell us briefly about that?
MO: That’s what I was working for my whole junior carrier. I had a Brazilian flag on my wall because that’s where the junior worlds were. I got to watch you (Tom) and Adam van Koeverden do well at their junior worlds and just wanted to be like them.  We had a great team, a lot of us are great friends now, Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny, Ian Mortimer, Andrew Russell were there with me. And yeah everything kind of clicked and went together and I got two gold medals at the junior world championships.

TH: And you beat someone who did very well in that event and who apparently who was pretty upset after his race.
MO: Yeah, he’ll tell the story. After the race he was crying because he got a bronze medal, but yeah, Attila Vajda of Hungary, he went on to win the Olympics and World Championships.  And also Tomasz Wylenzek Olympic champion in C2 was on the podium with me as well.

TH: And then from there, you had a hand problem that kind of slowed you down a bit, but then you obviously came back strong. But do you feel that your early successes and than some of those hard years in-between, do you think that made you a stronger athlete?
MO: Yeah definitely. When I was a junior, everything went right and that’s easy to deal with.  You know, you go to junior worlds and you win two gold medals, you go nationals and you win. It just keeps going and you don’t think anything can go wrong. When I had the injury, it taught me a really valuable lesson in sport and life: everything doesn’t always go right all the time. It took a lot to deal with that, both physically and mentally, but definitely getting through that time in my life made me stronger.

TH: It’s interesting because Richard Dalton said almost the exact same thing. He was convinced he was going to destroy junior worlds when he went because he had never lost a race, then he comes in fourth and was devastated. But he said that was one of the most important things that happened to his paddling carrier. So did your outlook on sport change at that time, your philosophy change a little bit as to how you approach canoeing?
MO: Yeah. A little bit. Not being able to compete at that level was really frustrating. So when I came back I was able to do everything with more intensity, more professionally and take everything at a more elite level.

TH: Almost an appreciation…
MO: Yeah.  An appreciation for the sport.

Thomas Hall Q & A interview with Mark Oldershaw
TH: So going into this year, you knew had some strong competition in Canada, and you and Ben Russell had some really awesome races, and that obviously would help you in London. But for London and more specifically the podium, everyone knows you’re strong enough to be there, you’re an awesome canoeist, and so what was it that got you there, what was your trick for London?
MO: I think it was more than just this year. Three or four years ago we kinda made a plan for London, it wasn’t just year-to-year. It was: OK we need to know exactly what to do every year building into London”. Results didn’t matter quite as much in the years leading up to London, but I just knew where I had to be physically and mentally. I think that focus and kind of, that organization and planning… I knew what I was doing and why I was doing it; I think that’s the most important thing. You have to set a goal, and have smaller goals leading up to that. Because, you can go out and train hard everyday, but if you don’t know exactly why you’re doing it, it can be really monotonous and boring. So that was definitely the most important thing.

TH: Did you feel when you were on the start line in London, that you were kind of at peace with the whole thing, or were you crapping your pants?
MO: I was at peace, which was the best feeling in the whole world. Knowing there is nothing you could have done more to be prepared. When you feel like that… obviously you feel nervous at the Olympic games, but you’re just confident and almost looking forward to racing. And that’s what it felt like. I was having fun out there and that’s when I do my best.

TH: Yeah, yeah of course. And I know this is a hard question to answer, but how was the podium?
MO: It was awesome. I mean you’ve been up there Tom, Adam’s been up there, and I get a sense, but nothing could prepare me for it. It was so much fun, everyone’s cheering, you know you see people in the crowds, you see the flags here and there and you’re waving, and it’s just an incredible feeling. I tried to stretch it out as long as I could, because I knew it doesn’t happen everyday. (laughing)

TH: That’s amazing. And then, you have your sights set on the next four years? Are you going to take a break?
MO: Now I want to race at the Olympics again, but we’ll see. The sport has been really good to me, and we have a really good canoe team right now and everything is going well. So I’ll definitely continue paddle a few more years and keep going year by year.

TH: Sweet. Is there anything else you want to say?
MO: No, thanks. Just keep up the good work SportCafé.

You can read more about Mark here and follow him on twitter at @MarkOldershaw.

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