Eoin Rheinisch announces retirement

Three-time Olympic canoeist says World Cup win was career highlight

Ireland’s Eoin Rheinisch in action during canoe slalom semi-final at London Olympics. photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland’s Eoin Rheinisch in action during canoe slalom semi-final at London Olympics. photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 01:00

You never like to wish any sportsman bad luck, but at the spectacular Olympic canoe slalom course in Beijing in 2008 Irish fans wanted Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo to mess up.

Kildare man Eoin Rheinisch had been in gold medal position with three competitors to go: big stars Alexander Grimm of Germany and Fabien Lefevre of France then pushed him into bronze. Boukpeti was the last man to come down and he was an outsider. His time would come, but not now. But Boukpeti dinked down the course to take the bronze, broke his paddle to celebrate and became an Olympic celebrity. Rheinisch had missed bronze by .7 of a second.

Rheinisch, a three-time Olympian who retired yesterday, was his usual calm and thoughtful self on the bank that day in Beijing, and speaking to The Irish Times last evening he still refused to define himself by that what-might-have been. Asked for the most memorable moment of his career, he looks elsewhere.

Olympic highlight
“Everybody says Beijing and it’s certainly the Olympic highlight. But my own highlight is winning the World Cup [in Spain in 2004]. It’s purely because of the way it played out and it was probably [BECAUSE]I was going for my first Olympics and I was under an awful lot of pressure to produce that result, having never made a final at that stage. That would be my highlight.”

Rheinisch finished 21st in his first Olympic Games in Athens, then 17 places better in Beijing. He took some time to consider before launching himself into the race to qualify for London 2012, but a tight qualification procedure again produced under pressure to hold off the challenge of talented tyro Ciarán Heurteau and land his place in the “home” Olympics.

Rainy Lee Valley was very different to the sunny glare of China. Rheinisch chose caution in the semi-finals, hoping to pull everything out in the final. But it all went wrong when his kayak touched the bottom. Off course, he missed a gate, incurring a 50-second penalty, and his chance of a final was gone.

Picking out the toughest aspect of being an Irish canoe slalom competitor is easy: there are no courses on the island, so competition meant travel.

“Two hundred days of the year abroad at that stage of your life is hard. It’s hard to keep a sense of normality [AWAY FROM]friends and family and girlfriend.” But Rheinisch, who finished 32nd at the World Championships in Prague in September of last year and said he was “not interested” in competing in the 2014 season if he could not do warm weather training, is not the regretful type.

He has taken on coaching junior and under-23 canoeists. He is revelling in it. “If I knew at 16 what I know now,” he says wistfully. You get the feeling he would still have taken on the challenge.