WINDSOR, England - The introduction of the 200-metre race to the canoe-kayak program at the Olympics has literally reshaped the sport at the Games.
Mark de Jonge, who goes for gold in the K-1 200 final Saturday, is a slab of muscle on legs. At 5-11 and 188 pounds, the 28-year-old kayaker from Halifax looks like he could rip a bank vault door off its hinges.
Contrast that to Adam van Koeverden, who won silver earlier in the week in the K-1 1,000 metres. The 30-year-old from Oakville, Ont., is about the same height and a few pounds lighter, but a totally different, leaner body type.
Peter Giles, a 1996 Olympian who is the current commodore (think president) of CanoeKayak Canada, compares de Jonge to a 200-metre sprinter in track and field while van Koeverden is the 1,500-metre runner.
While Giles doesn't buy into the argument that a shorter race translates into more excitement, he says the decision to go with 200- and 1,000-metre events at the Games instead of 500 and 1,000 has widened the sport.
"What that does is it creates the opportunity for more stars in our sport," Giles said. "In past Olympics, we had Adam van Koeverden doing well in the 1,000 and doing even better in the 500. And now, because of the distances are so different, they've split really into two classes of athlete. And I do think that adds something to the sport, I have to confess."
The 200 distance has been contested at the world championships for some time.
De Jonge could be a sprint star in the making. He won his heat and semifinal Friday.
The performance was all the more impressive given his Olympic dream was in jeopardy just months ago after he dropped an 80-pound dumbbell on his hand. He recovered from the broken finger but has seen limited race action outside winning the national trials
"It's my first international race so I wasn't used to that level of competition in this year," de Jonge said after the semifinal. "It's just going to really keep me focused for the final."
He called his first taste of the Olympics, under a blazing sun at Eton Dorney, "a pretty incredible feeling."
"I'm just trying to contain it all at this point, trying to not make too big a deal of it," he added. "I'm just going to go back and try not to think about racing this afternoon and then I'll save up some energy for that focus (Saturday)."
Still, de Jonge said he felt "unusually calm" at the start Friday.
"I really focused and visualized for this my whole year. I'm just really glad I was able to be calm and relaxed when you have thousands of people cheering up there (in the stands)."
De Jonge led from start to finish in his opening heat and then pipped Spain's Saul Craviotto by .002 of a second at the finish line to win the semifinal in 35.595 seconds.
His winning time in the first heat was 35.396, giving him the honour of setting the first Olympic best in the new event. That mark lasted one race as former world champion Ed McKeever of Britain clocked 35.087.
He will face stiff competition Saturday, the final day of canoe-kayak action, from McKeever, Craviotto, former world champion Ronald Rauhe of Germany and current European champion Marko Novakovic of Serbia.
Hugues Fournel of Lachine, Que., and Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, N.S. — not to be confused with the Canadian swimmer of the same name — finished fourth in their K-2 200 metres to grab the last berth in Saturday's final from their semi.
"Our goal is to perform our best," said Fournel, when asked about the duo's goals here, "and our best is really good. That's what we're aiming for."
Said Cochrane: "Most definitely the best is yet to come."
Added Fournel: "It didn't happen yet."
Emilie Fournel, Hugues' older sister, missed out on a final, finishing seventh in her K-1 200 semifinal.
And Jason McCoombs finished fourth in his C-1 200 semifinal and failed to advance. The 19-year-old from Dartmouth, N.S., will go to the B final Saturday.
"I definitely went as hard as I could," said a disappointed McCoombs, who had set his sights on the final. "I think I died a little bit in the last 100 metres, found it hard to keep the stroke rate up."
Still for a youngster in his first go-round on the senior international circuit, it was an impressive morning.
Canada has already won four medals at the venue from van Koeverden, Mark Oldershaw (bronze C-1 1,000 metres) and the men's and women's rowing eights (both silver).
De Jonge broke the middle finger of his left hand in mid-April, just three weeks ahead of the Canadian Olympic trials at Lake Lanier, Ga. He was doing a dumbbell bench press on one side when he lost his balance. He tried to toss the weight away while he put his hand down to support himself but did not get it clear.
But in June, he won the last spot on the Olympic canoe-kayak team by defeating teammate Richard Dober Jr. in an unofficial world best time of 33.804.
The time does not count because it was not an international meet.
De Jonge had stepped away from the sport after failing to make the Beijing team, focusing instead on his engineering career. But when the 200 metres was added to the Olympic schedule, coach Fred Jobin convinced him to come back in 2010.
He won a bronze medal at the test event at Eton Dorney last September.
McCoombs was fourth in his opening heat (41.742).
There were 25 competitors in the four opening C-1 200 heats and all but one progressed to the semifinals. Amazingly the one that missed out was European and world champion Valentin Demyanenko of Azerbaijan.
Three of the four heats featured just six competitors, with all six progressing. Demyanenko's heat was the only one with seven entries and he was the lone odd man out, placing seventh.
His Olympics lasted a little over 44 seconds.
Hugues Fournel and Cochrane placed fourth in their heat (33.407) while Emilie Fournel was fifth in her opening heat (43.117).
The Fournels' late father, Jean, paddled at the 1976 Games in Montreal while mother Guylaine raced in the Pan American Championships.
Hugues Fournel and Cochrane turned heads in 2010 when they upset Dober and Andrew Willows at the national team trials. It marked the first time in six years a Canadian crew had beaten Dober and Willows.
Emilie Fournel also competed at Beijing, finishing 10th in the K-4 500 metres.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly listed Cochrane's hometown as Windsor, Ont.