Ken Wallace, a Gold Coast lifesaver who barely knew the sport existed eight years before, made history by winning gold and bronze medals in the 500 metres and 1000 metres single kayak events respectively at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He was the first Australian to win medals in both Olympic forms of individual paddling at the same Games. In his second, gold-medal final, he defeated Canada’s Olympic champion Adam van Koeverden, unbeaten in the event since 2006, and his conqueror in the K1 1000m the day before, Britain’s Tim Brabants. After crossing the line to win gold, Wallace heaved himself from his kayak into the murky waters of the Shinyu course. “I was just stoked,” he explained later, “Suddenly the paddle was up in the air and I ended up going for a swim.”
In winning gold at his first Olympics, Wallace emulated the feat of his idol Clint Robinson, whose poster adorns his bedroom wall. He was immediately seen as the successor to Robinson, who won gold in 1992, silver in 2004 and bronze in 1996. Wallace, 25, admitted afterwards that he had entered the sport in 2000 solely to enhance his iron-man credentials in the surf. “I didn’t really know what kayaking was,” he said, nursing his gold medal. “All I knew was that it was similar to the ski leg in the iron-man series.” In those early days, he developed something of a reputation as a clown … he shocked coaches by turning up for his first race wearing a sombrero.
With the K1 500m no longer on the Olympic programme, Wallace remains the reigning Olympic champion and Olympic record holder in the event.
Wallace narrowly missed the opportunity to race the K1 1000m in London but raced the K2 1000m alongside eventual K4 1000m gold medallist David Smith. The pair only came together months before the Games and came within a boat length of winning a medal, finishing fourth in the London Olympic final.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian