Early on Wednesday morning in Tokyo a small earth tremor shook Hungarian paddler Sandor Totka from his sleep, sending him into a panic that he had slept through his Olympic race.

On Thursday 27-year-old Totka sent a tremor of his own through the fastest male canoe sprint paddlers on the planet, winning gold in the men’s K1 200 at the Tokyo Olympics. The 2019 European champion outgunned Italy’s Manfredi Rizza and Great Britain’s Rio gold medalist, Liam Heath.

“I dreamed it was my coach shaking me, telling me I had missed my race,” Totka recalled about his rude awakening at 530 Wednesday morning.

“But when I woke up I realised it was an earthquake. Which I guess was a relief.”

The early wake-up didn’t seem to bother Totka on Wednesday when he qualified first in his heat, and there was definitely nothing bleary-eyed about his race on Thursday. The 200 is over in the blink of an eye, so snooze you lose.

Those who witnessed Totka win his European title over Heath earlier this year were confident the Hungarian could repeat the performance in Tokyo.

But Totka was taking no comfort from his earlier win.

“I didn’t worry about the past, only the future,” Totka said.

“The Europeans were in the past, especially the race was so close. I knew I had to train hard and do my best. I was happy about winning the European championships of course, but at the Olympics, nobody cares what happened at the European championships.”

Totka has an injury to a K4 teammate to thank for his opportunity to race the K1 200. The team boat was the main focus for the Hungarian team, and as such, the main focus for Totka.

“Life did not go as we planned, we had an injury in the K4 and everything went upside down,” Totka said.

“At the beginning of my preparation I was just focussed on doing well in the K4, and then hopefully being one of the two people to do the 200. But after the injury, I had to focus on the K1.

“Last year I told the Hungarian media it was going to be a different Olympic Games, and the person who wins the gold will be the person who can adapt the best. And that was me.”

Totka will be remembered as the last athlete to win Olympic gold in the K1 200, with the event not included on the Paris 2024 programme.

The Hungarian said it was frustrating and disappointing he will not get a chance to defend his gold in Paris,

“I’m so sorry, because I made changes to my technique, to my preparation and my training plan, and I feel a bit sad because from this package something is going to the trash,” he said.

“For Paris I will concentrate on the K4 and the K2 500, that’s it.”

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