RIO DE JANEIRO – Takuya Haneda wrote his name in Japanese Olympic history at the Rio Games on Tuesday, becoming the first athlete from the country to win an Olympic medal in canoe slalom.
The 29-year-old from Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, added Olympic bronze to the gold medal he won at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
Haneda had a touch-free run down the artificial river at Rio 2016’s brand new Whitewater Stadium, negotiating the 12-gate course in 97.44 seconds, without incurring a penalty.
It was a performance that further demonstrated his affinity for the Olympic course, where he finished second in the test event held on the same waters in 2015.
“I have been preparing for a long time for these Olympics and I knew I had to win a medal,” said Haneda. “This is the first canoe medal in an Olympics for Japan and I am so honored that I got the bronze.
“I don’t think anyone believed that a Japanese would win a medal in this event. I really feel like I have finally achieved something. I didn’t make any big mistakes in the heats or the semifinal or final and I think that was the best performance of my career,” he said.
Haneda had to endure a few nervous moments before his medal was secure.
“I was in third place when the last competitor (Germany’s Sideris Tasiadis) went and I could feel my heart pounding while I was watching him,” he said.
“The moment I realized he had finished below me and I had won the bronze, all the strain and all the effort I have put in until now suddenly welled up in my heart, and before I knew it I was in tears,” Haneda added.
The gold medalist from France, Denis Gargaud Chanut, the 2011 world champion, negotiated the course in 94.17. He enjoyed a clean run, as did silver medalist Matej Benus of Slovakia (95.02).
Haneda made a career-changing decision in 2006, when he picked up and moved to Slovakia, the canoe slalom mecca, from Japan, which has no international-level artificial whitewater facilities.
He made the move in order to train with top athletes — a call that has clearly paid off.
“If I had not made the decision to go to Europe and train when I was 18, then there is no way I would be sitting here now,” said Haneda.
Haneda placed 14th in his Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games and bettered that performance by placing seventh four years ago in London.