WALTHAM CROSS, England (Reuters) - Italian daredevil Daniele Molmenti might treat himself to a shiny red Ducati motorcycle after blasting to Olympic gold in a thrilling canoe slalom kayak single final on Wednesday.
A strange choice some might say for a man who cheated death in a serious motorcycle accident in 2007 but not surprising for a born showman who thrives on adrenaline.
“That was the first big job for my own personal angel,” Molmenti who celebrated his 28th birthday in dream fashion by beating Czech Vavrinec Hradilek and Germany’s Hannes Aigner to the top step of the podium at the Lee Valley White Water Centre.
“I went flying off a ravine and seven meters down into a dry river bed. I really shouldn’t be here,” Molmenti said.
“I broke a vertebrae in my back but 100 days later I was back paddling and I started to rise up again.
“Luckily my body is strong and that helped me through that bad moment and now it’s water under the bridge.”
The accident set his career back and although he qualified for Beijing he managed only 10th. That lingering disappointment was flushed away with a scintillating ride through the rapids on Wednesday as he completed a full set of major honors in K1.
Showing incredible control of his blood red canoe he tamed the roaring waters to negotiate the treacherous gates, crossing the line in 93.43 seconds to steal gold from the clutches of Hradilek whose time of 94.78 had looked unbeatable.
“I just made the sign of the cross (indicating on his chest) and then switched my engines on,” added Molmenti, who also enjoys mountaineering and mountain-biking.
“When I saw Hradilek’s run I knew that there were a couple of tiny mistakes from him and that if I was perfect I could take it. Luckily I was perfect today,” added the 2010 world champion who paddled around with an Italian flag in the finishing pool.”
Having already been crowned a world, European and World Cup champion, Molmenti has now become the first K1 kayak athlete to achieve the full set.
“I finished my job,” he said. “I’m so excited I’ve lost my voice. I’m the first K1 man to do everything and I’m pretty proud of that.
“Today I was sure that if I did my job no one could beat me.”
Hradilek’s consolation was his country’s first medal at this year’s Olympics and he will have the chance of another one in Thursday’s kayak double K2 semi-finals and final.
“I didn’t realize we have had no medals so I did not put pressure on myself,” Hradilek, who also finished runner-up to Molmenti at the 2010 worlds, told reporters.
“I hope I inspire other Czech athletes.”
Togo’s surprise bronze medalist from Beijing, Benjamin Boukpeti, cheered on by a sizeable entourage from the country’s Olympic committee, could not repeat his heroics, finishing 10th in the final after missing a gate and suffering a 50-second penalty.
Action at the canoe slalom venue concludes on Thursday when Slovakian twins Pavol and Peter Hochschorner try to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in canoe double.
Gold is also up for grabs in the women’s kayak single.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Alison Wildey