The Sunday Post (Dundee)
Liam’s gone from mixing cocktails to Olympic glory
LIAM HEATH completed his journey from barman to Britain’s greatest canoeist by powering to Olympic gold in the K1 200 metres in Rio yesterday.
The 32-year-old landed his third Olympic medal, and first gold, seven years after taking his first steps back into the sport, having left it for good with no intention of returning.
Back then he was making cocktails and pulling pints at a TGI Friday’s, having turned his back on canoeing to focus on completing his degree in industrial design and technology at Loughborough University.
Asked what he would have said then to a suggestion he might become Olympic champion, he replied: “Are you having a laugh, mate? Do you want a pint?”
Heath, whose success came two days after he won silver alongside Jon Schofield in the K2 200m, added: “In 2009 I just started coming back into the sport after leaving it without any thought of coming back and competing.
“To think if I hadn’t come back in I’d be missing out on this is quite scary to be honest. I’m over the moon.
“In the second year of university I had my appendix taken out quite quickly and I decided at that time in my life to focus on my degree.
“I came out of university twiddling my thumbs a little bit, not knowing what I wanted to do. Then the 200m was announced as an Olympic discipline and I’ve always been pretty nifty over 200m.
“I left where I was working and committed full-time, without funding initially, jumped straight in a boat, the K2 with Jon, and first World Cup hit gold.”
And there was more glory at Rio’s picturesque Lagoa as Heath overcame a slow start to motor past France’s Maxime Beaumont in the closing stages to take victory.
His awesome power, the result of doing chin-ups with 90 kilograms tied round his body, was in evidence as he crossed the line in 35.197 seconds, with the Frenchman 0.165secs behind.
It was a first title after his K2 200m silver and his bronze in the same class at London 2012.
Victory for Heath made him the country’s most successful Olympic canoeist, ahead of Tim Brabants, who won a gold and two bronzes, and also marked the most successful Games ever for Britain’s canoeists. Their UK Sport medal target was three to five and they have won four: two golds and two silvers.
Heath, who continued Britain’s dominance in the event following Ed McKeever’s gold four years ago, said: “I’ve got the set now, bronze in London, silver and gold here, it’s incredible.
“I had an inkling I had won when I crossed the line, but you’re so focused on your lane and those white blocks at the finish point that you blank everything out.
“When they’ve looked at the photo finish and put your name up on the board, that’s when you know and it starts to sink in.”
Schofield watched his friend claim gold and declared himself “incredibly proud”, despite the “horrible” nerves.
“It was really nerve-racking, particularly after not a great start, but when I saw him coming through towards the end I started to relax a little bit,” he said. “With about 20m to go I knew it was impossible for anyone to come back on him.”
Schofield admitted he has had to put his own celebrations on hold while Heath geared up for his gold medal bid, going out of his way not to disrupt his preparations.
Now, though, the covertness can end. And being Brazil there is oonly one way for a former cocktail maker, who can name and make over 150 different types, to celebrate.
“I might have one or two caipirinhas tonight,” Heath said.
HOSTS Brazil last night beat Germany 5-4 on penalties to secure gold in the Olympic football final.
The sides had been level at 1-1 after 90 minutes, plus a further 30 minutes of extra time.
Brazil captain Neymar had opened the scoring in the 27th minute. But Germany equalised through Max Meyer on the hour mark.
It was one-way traffic from then on but Brazil just couldn’t find the winner, meaning extra-time and penalties.
It was left to Neymar to slot home for gold, after the Germans had their fifth spot-kick saved.