The Europeans will paddle off with most of the medals in the canoe and kayak races. But the United States will cop the toughest of all, the 10,000-meter single-blade canoe event.
In this six-mile-plus killer a man kneels for a solid hour, maintains a paddle rate of 45 strokes a minute and still saves enough energy to pour it on at a stroke a second in sprint fashion.
Permanently numb legs and Charley horses are common ailments. A man can't stop and rub out an aching muscle, for he has to keep his balance in this 17-foot, fragile, needle-shaped craft, which is 2½ feet at its widest point. It takes an exceptionally strong and experienced competitor even to try the 10,000-meter distance.
The U.S. has just the man in Frank B. Havens of Vienna, Va. Frank is a rabid canoe fan, and so is his cheerful wife, who has scrimped and saved to make up for two months pay which Frank will lose while away from his job as an auto insurance adjuster.
At Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, Frank aims to keep his Helsinki gold medal and break his own world record with a flat 55-minute clocking. He won't discuss race strategy except to say, "I'll drink a half pint of honey and take the lead at the 6,000-meter mark." Apparently, that is an understatement. "Frank's a fellow who doesn't brag much, but if he says he'll do it, he will," say Coach Joe Ryan and Frank's teammates.
We might as well hand the Czechs and Hungarians the rest of the three canoe gold medals. There is an outside chance that Frank Krick and John Haas, who finished fifth at Helsinki, can creep into the first three places.
The Swedes and Finns have always been good kayak men, and they will probably sweep top honors in this division. Sweden's fireman Gert Fredriksson and Finland's Thorvald Stromberg, who at the Helsinki Olympics won a gold and silver medal apiece, will revive their private feud in the 1,000-meter and 10,000-meter single kayak events.
Despite their Eskimo brothers, the Americans really haven't the kayak know-how. But you couldn't tell that to two determined young men from New York City and The Bronx. Seventeen-year-old Ken Wilson and 19-year-old Edward (Red) Houston plan to "just get in and paddle like hell!" They don't know the first thing about pacing themselves, but the boys will do all right, that is, if Red doesn't get so excited he falls out of the bow when the gun goes off.