Persistence pays off with bronze for Bell

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13.08.2008 – Graham Croker

Sydney University Sports Scholarship holder Robin Bell now knows that dreams can come true; he is the proud holder of an Olympic bronze medal in canoe after finishing third in the men’s C1 slalom event at the Shunyi whitewater course yesterday.

The Beijing Games bronze medal helped ease the disappointment the Sydney University Blue felt after finishing fourth in the same event at the Athens Olympic Games four years ago.

“It’s awesome isn’t it,” three-time Olympian Bell said after collecting his medal. “I was sitting down the bottom sweating it like Athens and I was thinking ‘oh I don’t think I’m going to get this one’. It’s such a relief, I tell you. I’m ecstatic.”

Bell held onto third place behind Michal Martikan of Slovakia, who won gold, and Britain’s David Florence, who won silver, to claim Australia’s first ever Olympic medal in the event.

While totally satisfied with the bronze medal, Bell was in line for a silver until a crucial penalty touch in his semi-final run added two seconds to his time, changing the hue of his reward.

“If you hit it (the gate) with the water it’s not a penalty, but there was a bit of water on my deck and just kind of rolled it … the finest of touches,” he said.

“The judges are the judges and I put myself in that position closest to the gates, so they gave me a touch I just have to wear it. It knocked me from silver to bronze; so I’m pretty happy at the end of the day.

“It’s such a hard course out there that people started making mistakes and it ended up being my lucky day. I think I would swap every medal I have in every other competition for an Olympic medal.”

Bell’s relatively incident-free time of 89.43sec in the final, which added to his semi-final time made for a combined 180.59sec, propelled him to first place with four competitors still to race.

The ensuing wait was a mirror of his experience in Athens. Four years ago, Bell watched forlornly as three others surpassed him to deny him a place on the podium. But after Britain’s David Florence immediately knocked him out of gold medal contention, the Australian’s prospects of silver rose dramatically as each of the next three competitors struggled with the first upstream gate.

Bell grasped a tenuous hold on second place when Martikan, the six-time world champion from Slovakia, commenced the final run of the final. Martikan incurred a two-second penalty along the way, but still managed an overall time of 176.65sec to hold on for the gold, relegating the Australian to third.