Robert Kendrick (left), with coach Eoin Rheinisch
NANJING, Aug 24 – Canoeist Robert HENDRICK was not about to let a little separation anxiety intrude on his Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games dream.
When the 16-year-old Irishman awoke on his first morning in Nanjing after a 14-hour flight from Dublin he realised it was the first time he had been apart from his identical twin Noel for longer than a day.
“Noel competes in K1 [single kayak] and we double up in C2 [double canoe], but he didn’t qualify for these Games,” HENDRICK said.
“He trains as much as me, goes to most of the same competitions as me, but he’s not on the water with me here, which makes it a bit different.
“But he’s here now. He’s travelled out with mum and dad [Lourde and Pat] to support me, which I’m really happy about,” Ireland’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer said.
The sight of the National Olympic Committee code IRL is a rare one in a canoe discipline usually ‘owned’ by powerhouse European nations such as Hungary, Germany, Russia and Poland.
And HENDRICK knows he will have his work cut out as he competes in both the sprint and slalom events.
“Canoe is not a very big sport in Ireland. There are so few of us competing and it’s hard for us to keep being competitive when there’s next to no one to race against,” he said.
“It’s difficult and we make do well enough, but there are very few C1s [single canoes], so you’re really racing against yourself a lot.
“I compete internationally as much as I can and I’ve raced at world juniors and other big races. This is another competition I just have to make the most of.”
HENDRICK, Ireland’s sole canoeist in Nanjing, has his well-qualified coach with him to make sure he is no minnow among sharks this week at Nanjing Rowing-Canoeing School.
Eoin RHEINISCH (IRL) competed in slalom at the Olympic Games in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
His performance in coming fourth in the K1 final at the Beijing 2008 Games remains the best by an Irishman in the event.
He is a fan of the experience athletes gain from Youth Olympic Games participation.
“My first Olympics was at Athens in 2004 and I went in there ranked number six and I had a really good season leading in to it, but I definitely suffered from not being fully prepared for the Olympic experience,” RHEINISCH said.
“It’s a difficult thing to prepare for because no one can really tell you what the experience will be like.
“I think that’s what gives so much value to the athletes coming here. The village, the media and the frustrations that they are going to come up against when rules don’t make sense necessarily; learning the way it is.
“Robert wants to go on to Tokyo [2020 Olympic Games], so the exposure here has already been very, very valuable,” he said.
The luck of the Irish deserted HENDRICK on Saturday when he failed to advance to Sunday’s C1 semi-finals, but Monday’s Obstacle Slalom qualifications await.
“That’s the one he really wants to do well in, a bit of the rougher stuff is definitely his preference,” RHEINISCH said.