Olympian Ed McKeever became a national hero when he won the gold medal in the Olympic kayak K1 200 metres sprint. CRAIG JONES spoke to his parents about their pride in him
As the child who’d constantly go out of his way to jump into puddles it was perhaps fate that Bradford on Avon kayaker Ed McKeever would taste Olympic glory in the water and now that his parents have finally caught their breath following a whirlwind weekend they reveal how proud they are of their golden boy.
On Saturday morning, the former St Laurence student, 28, powerfully paddled his way from local hero to a worldwide superstar as he clinched a gold medal for Team GB at Eton Dorney, in Buckinghamshire, in the men’s kayak single K1 200m as part of the canoe sprint events.
After comfortably securing qualification in the heats on Friday kayak king McKeever dominated the final taking gold with a winning time of 36.246 seconds, on Dorney Lake in front of a home crowd of 30,000 people, adding the Olympic crown to his 2010 world and European titles.
He was cheered on from the stands by parents Derek and Janice, fiancée Anya, brother Tom and nephew Matthew as well as other family and friends he’s made during a career which began when he was taken under the wing of former Great Britain canoeist Simon Dark at the age of 12 at Bradford on Avon Rowing and Canoeing Club.
Now back in their home of 30 years in Farleigh Wick, mother Janice McKeever, 64, who is a lecturer at Bath College, said that the family had enjoyed a surreal few days seeing Ed secure Olympic glory.
Mrs McKeever, who cheered her son on wearing special t-shirts designed by his fiancée, said: “This has basically been the first real opportunity for us to just catch our breath and take it all in as it has been a bit hectic couple of days.
“When Ed crossed the line relief was the main emotion that he’d won as this has been a long, long, long time in the coming and my first thought was just thank heavens he’s done it.”
Father Derek said that once Ed took gold he was inundated with people congratulating the family in the stands.
Mr McKeever said: “It was a little surreal there wasn’t a celebration as such as you just don’t have time for those sorts of things in the stands. When the race finished everyone in the stand was just on us. There was just a huge sense of relief in all of us I think.
“I have to admit up until about 10 minutes or so before the race I was fine. But then the nerves kicked in when they put this pounding heartbeat on the big screen and if you are a bit on edge to begin with it really gets you going as it was really loud especially with the crowd screaming and shouting. Then it went really quiet for the start but then about five seconds later they were back screaming and shouting again.”
Coming into the Olympic competition the McKeevers said they were confident Ed could get a medal and once he made a great start in the final they knew there was just no beating him.
In the build up to the competition Ed escaped the first week euphoria and media attention of the Olympic Games training with the other members of the Team GB sprint canoe team in Barcelona, at a venue used for the 1992 Spanish Games, with his family leaving him to clearly focus on grabbing glory.
Mrs McKeever said: “Before races, especially the serious ones, you just don’t go near him. We just dropped him a text to say good luck as he knew where we were if he needed us but we knew he had everything under control. It’s very much like sending your child in to do an exam you can’t do anything about it but you are usually more worried than they are as they are in control.
“I’m glad he was out of the country for the first week of the Olympics as it would have been a long, long wait for him otherwise with the pressure building on him back here.”
Even since the race the McKeevers haven’t been able to spend too much quality time with their son as he’s been fulfilling media commitments and even chatting with Prime Minister David Cameron who took him to one side to congratulate him after his golden performance at Eton Dorney.
This is a far cry from the wildest dreams of a young Ed who joined his local canoe club with a friend from St Laurence School, Alistair Rosier, in 1995, after developing an interest in watersports with the Corsham Sea Scouts.
Mrs McKeever said: “From a young age Ed always liked water he was the kind of little boy who’d cross the street to go and jump in a puddle. He started learning swimming before he was one and just loved the water from there on in.
“He went out with the Corsham Sea Scouts spending weekends camping out by Corsham Lake doing all manner of water games including canoeing and boating. That’s where he began to home his water skills and then a friend of his from St Laurence started down the canoeing club and suggested Ed joined too.”
During his early years at the club the McKeevers would sacrifice their weekends taking their son all across the south west and eventually to countrywide venues and events as his development progressed.
After a couple of years competing, rugby and judo enthusiast, Ed, had some difficult decisions to make.
Mr McKeever, who joined Bradford on Avon Canoeing and Rowing club inspired by his son, said: “He was playing rugby a bit but at about 14 Janice had a discussion with him and basically said the choice was do you want to get to the standard of playing rugby for your county or do you want to canoe for Great Britain and he made his decision - which looks like the right one.”
Mrs McKeever said the gold medal winner’s early development really benefited from the expertise of the canoe club’s experienced members.
She said: “Ed was fortunate that there was a lot of top class people around who were semi-retired who could help and support him locally three, four, five times a week down at the club. When he first went down there of course it was in Simon Dark’s days and Darky sort of took him under his wing and it was great for Ed at the age of 12 to go off training with a top current GB paddler.
“At 16 I think Ed realised how good he was as that’s when he felt he could go fast and he was always trying to catch Darky at the club using him as a gage of his progress.
“Ed’s philosophy was just go out and beat someone who he hadn’t beaten before and not have major targets. He never went out at the age of 15 or 16 expecting to be world champion instead he just took everything step by step gradually working his way up.”
Looking to the future, once the McKeevers have stopped pinching themselves, they have two forthcoming weddings to plan for.
Firstly, Ed’s to fiancée Anya Kuczha in September, near their home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire and then the wedding of his brother Tom, 31, to his fiancée Carly, 27, in October.
Ed’s bestman is going to be his training partner Ed Cox and Mr McKeever thinks there may be a fair few canoeing references on his son’s big day.
He said: “They’ve said they want the wedding to avoid any canoeing elements but I wouldn’t be surprised if when they walk out as man and wife that they’ll be crossed by paddles to walk under
because half the people there are going to have known Ed through Canoeing and will probably want to commemorate his marvellous Olympic achievement.”