Canoeist Havens makes his father proud

Back in 1924, a young American canoeist called Bill Havens had been confronted with a dilemma. He had been given a place in the USA’s squad for that year's Olympics in Paris, but his pregnant wife was due to give birth at the same time as the Games. He could not be in both places at once – so which should he choose: the birth of his child, or the opportunity to compete on sport's greatest stage?

He chose to stay with his wife and she duly gave birth to a boy called Frank.

It was perhaps therefore written in the stars that Frank Havens was destined to play a significant part in the Olympics. Like his father, he went on to excel on the water. Both Frank and his brother, Bill, were superb canoeists. The two men both competed in the 1948 Games in London, with Frank taking a silver medal in the 10,000m Canadian singles and Bill finishing fifth in the 1,000m.

Meanwhile Frank forged a career in the insurance industry, but he returned to competition for the 1952 Games, preparing diligently and intent on trying to reach the top step of the podium.

The 10,000m was a gruelling event, taking around an hour. In Helsinki it was held in a bay that was sealed off from the sea by using a line of merchant boats as a floating wall. The water, though, was still choppy and the going was hard.

The Czech paddler Alfréd Jindra led for most of the race, but Havens remained in touch, waiting for the right time to take the lead. He did so in the final stretch, retaining enough energy to power into a decisive lead and hold on to take gold by eight seconds.

After celebrating his victory, Havens sent his father an emotional telegram that read: “I'm bringing home the gold medal that you should have won.”

He remains the only American canoeist to have won a gold medal in a singles event at the Olympic Games.


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