Slalom World Cup 2017 Stage #3 – Franz Anton’s Drive Towards Tokyo 2020
How sadness and despair are driving Franz Anton towards Tokyo 2020
Franz Anton has a Tokyo 2020 poster hanging in his gym and wears a watch that is counting backwards until the opening day of the next Olympic Games.
He’s not obsessed, although he is toying with the idea of learning Japanese before 2020. It’s more a feeling he has unfinished Olympics business.
And not in the sense of getting a disappointing result in Rio. He’s quite happy with the fourth placing he and Jan Benzien achieved in the C2 final.
But the Rio Olympics ended in incredible sadness and despair for Anton, his German teammates and the entire Olympic movement.
German coach and 2004 Olympic silver medallist, Stefan Henze, was killed in a car accident in Rio, casting an enormous pall over the entire Games and leaving the close-knit German team distraught and feeling a long way from home.
“The problem was we had lost Stefan Henze, and this thing was really heavy,” Anton said this week.
“So fourth place at the Olympics doesn’t count if you have something to lose like this. I didn’t have a problem to go on with my sport, but there was one person missing and that was really hard, to say why does it happen?”
At a time most athletes are celebrating one of the most important milestones in their lives, there was very little celebration among the German camp. Instead there was consoling, counselling, and tears. Lots of tears.
“We had to stay two more weeks in Rio,” Anton said.
“We didn’t expect something like this, that’s for sure. I couldn’t enjoy the time really well. I tried to do the best with it, but some media and other athletes would ask you about it, so you could never get away from it or you never had the chance to forget it.
“I was talking to him on his last day, and he said it was crazy what we had done. We had started as a C1, and then we got as a C2 to the Olympics. He was a C2 athlete so he knew exactly what it was.
“I got a good feeling from him, and this is something I can take with me for the whole of my life.”
As can sometimes be the case, through incredible grief there can emerge enormous strength, and the tight bond among the German canoe community is very evident.
It was on display in Augsburg last weekend, and is sure to be there for everyone to see when ICF World Cup 3 kicks off this Friday in Markkleeberg.
It’s Franz Anton’s home course, and he desperately wants to put on a good show. He’ll compete in the C1 and the C2, and is looking forward to seeing the familiar faces in the crowd.
Although he has one favour to ask those coming to Kanupark Markkleeberg this weekend – pick a good time for a chat.
“Everyone knows me here. Especially at the start, visitors can come really close to you, they can come up to you,” he laughed.
“These are all parts that can disturb you. So I try to focus and not talk to all of the guys, but it doesn’t help a lot because there is always someone who knows me.
“It doesn’t matter if it is 10 seconds before my start, they come up and say ‘hey, have a good run and good luck’. At this moment I just want to focus and be on my line.”
Over-exuberant fans will be just one of several challenges for Anton, who won bronze in Augsburg last weekend.
So far the C1 has been dominated by German teammate Sideris Tasiadis and Olympic silver medallist, Matej Benus, who won World Cups 1 and 2 respectively.
But Anton is hoping hometown advantage will give him the edge this weekend.
“Augsburg has shown this, Prague has shown this,” he said.
“The athletes from the nation, they know the course very well, and I think here is the same. But you get a lot of pressure, because every media guy always says ‘you will win?’, so you have a lot of pressure on your shoulders.
“But if you can focus, you can use it a lot.”
If Anton looks nervous this weekend, it’s not just because he is racing for gold in front of an expectant crowd. He also has to keep one eye on making sure there’s enough food and drink, the media are happy, and there are enough toilets.
“Because I’m part of the organising committee we want to do something special. I hope the athletes and the visitors all like it,” he said.
“Sure, it makes me proud that everyone is coming here, maybe they will tell us after something was good, something was bad, but this helps us make it better for next time.”
So back to the poster, the watch, and the Japanese language courses. It’s understandable all the German athletes who were in Rio want the chance to go to an Olympics and enjoy it the way everyone else enjoyed last year’s Games.
There’s no C2 in Tokyo, so Anton has to focus completely on the C1. But you don’t need to worry about his focus, he’s got that covered.
“It was my first Olympics as an athlete, and I’m getting hungry for the next Olympics. This is what I can take for me from the Rio Olympics,” he said.
“I think one month after the Rio Olympics I bought a picture from the Tokyo 2020 Games and put it in the gym, so I’m focussed.
“I think I will have to put another picture in the changing room, where I would see it a lot.”
ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup 3 begins on Friday.