Tim Brabants on juggling his way towards London 2012

In the latest part of our weekly #olympicthursday  series profiling leading British hopes, BBC Sport's Lawrence Barretto speaks to sprint canoeist Tim Brabants.

Tim Brabants doesn't do things by halves.

After winning a sprint canoe bronze medal at his first Olympics in Sydney 2000 and just missing out on a medal in Athens, he turned his hand to medicine.

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For some athletes the biggest thing is qualifying, which is really important if you've never been before, but I don't actually think about my own domestic competition at all

Tim Brabants

Eighteen months later, he was back in full-time training for Beijing - and now he's doing the same in an attempt to qualify for London.

During that period, the 35-year-old has had a daughter, recovered from a peck tendon injury which wrecked an entire season, taken up flying lessons and built a couple of kit cars in his "spare" time.

And amid all of that, he became Britain's first Olympic canoeing champion in the K1 1,000m in Beijing.

"It would be boring if my life was easy," Brabants tells BBC Sport at his training base in Teddington.

"At the end of the day, I need a career when I finish in this sport so it made sense to pursue medicine. For 18 months, I focused entirely on my career. It takes your mind away from your sporting career and gives your body a much-needed break.

"Every time I go back to canoeing, it's a case of rebuilding myself. I just love the challenge."

Brabants took up canoeing when he was 10 years old but admits at that time he was "just interested in watching the ducks". But his competitive nature soon came to the fore and he flew through the ranks, qualifying for Sydney and winning a bronze medal in the K1 1,000m.

Athens proved to be a disappointment as he achieved the fastest qualifying time for the Olympic final, only to finish fifth.

He packed the paddles away in the garage and turned to education, completing his medical studies before taking up a doctoring role in Jersey.


"It's something I've always been interested in. I've had a few lessons in fixed-wing aircraft but it's just very expensive. But in January, my wife bought me a helicopter lesson. I'd never flown one before so it was another new challenge. It was brilliant and something I hope to do more."

The taste of defeat and the desire to win gold still lingered so he dusted off his boat and headed back onto the water 18 months later, winning the European title on his immediate return and maintaining that form to win gold in Beijing.

"Beijing feels like a long time ago," said Brabants. "A lot has happened since then but it was the highlight of my career so far and also quite a relief in a way because it was realising a dream.

"When you cross the line, the first thing you feel is relief because you think, 'Thank God I've delivered on what I and other people believed I could do.'"

The culmination of 21 years of work had been realised, so Brabants understandably found himself in limbo post-Beijing.

"It's was so tough," he said. "Initially it was about enjoying all the post-Olympic functions and rebuilding my career outside sport - but London was always in the back of my mind.

"Could I achieve that goal of competing in London and winning gold? I certainly felt like I could, so it was an easy decision to come back."

Brabants, who trains every day for two weeks before having a day off, admits it was a shock to the system when he began his second comeback after another 18-month break, but he was soon into the swing of things.

"You experience that massive endorphin rush as you get back into training so it's actually a really nice feeling for the first few sessions," he says. "Then everything starts to ache, but I enjoy the pain as much I enjoy the good times.

"I don't feel any different on this return other than I've got a lot less hair than I did then. I've got a lot more experience and, because I'm a bit older, I'm probably a bit wiser too."

Tim Brabants
  • Born: 23 January 1977 in Chertsey
  • Hometown: Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
  • Club: Nottingham and Royal Canoe Club
  • Olympic record: Bronze in the K1 1,000m, Sydney 2000; gold in the K1 1,000m and bronze in the K1 500m, Beijing 2008
  • World Championship record: Silver in the K1 1,000m Szeged 2006; gold in the K1 1,000m and bronze in the K1 500m, Duisburg 2007 and silver in the K1 1,000, Poznan 2010

But on his current comeback, things haven't quite gone to plan.

For the first time in his career, Brabants found himself with serious competition for the one place available in the K1 for London in the form of 24-year-old Paul Wycherley.

Worse still, he tore his pectoral tendon, which ruined the 2011 season.

"I had surgery and missed a huge block of training," Brabants says. "I came back last year trying to compete in K1 but it was a bit of a disaster."

And he was still out of shape in July when he lost to Wycherley in a best-of-three race-off for a spot at the 2011 World Championships, but Brabants dismisses the importance of that defeat, saying: "It's one of those things.

"I'd only been back paddling for three months before the race. Everyone in sport has to compete against other people in your sport for places. Anyway, it would be very dull if you didn't have to compete for spot because how do you push yourself?"

He will have the chance for revenge on 14 April at the British selection trials at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham, where he will race Wycherley in another best-of-three contest.

Two further assessments at the first two World Cups will follow in May before GB canoe chiefs must make their decision as to who will represent Britain in the K1 1,000m.


  • 14-15 April - GB national regatta, Nottingham - Olympic Assessment 1
  • 18-20 May - World Cup 1, Poznan - Olympic Assessment 2
  • 25-27 May - World Cup 2, Duisburg - Olympic Assessment 3
  • 1-3 June - World Cup 3, Moscow
  • 6-11 August - Olympic regatta
  • The person with the best two results in the three assessments will be selected as GB's nomination in the K1 1,000m

Brabants, however, says he isn't worried about national selection and instead is focusing on the bigger picture.

"I'm looking at winning medals at the Olympic Games - not just qualification. For some athletes the biggest thing is just qualifying, which is really important if you've never been before, but I don't actually think about my own domestic competition at all.

"I'm thinking about my Canadian, my Australian and my German competitors, who are my friends but also my biggest rivals. They're the ones I'm more worried about and the ones I'm trying to be better than."

After spending the winter in Cape Town, South Africa - something he does every year - Brabants is back in the UK and claims to be feeling fitter and healthier than ever.

"I'm feeling really good at the minute," he says. "It's been an exciting rollercoaster ride to get to this stage but I think I'm right on track and I'm really excited about the new season."

After London, Brabants is in no doubt he will return to medicine, but he refuses to rule out a return for Rio 2016 at the age of 39.

"I love medicine and I love my career," he says. "I feel a bit guilty sometimes because I'm just dipping in and out of medicine but I'll be putting in those seven day, 12-hour, nightshifts soon enough.

"But I don't see myself leaving canoeing just yet. Who knows, I won't necessarily be too old for Rio."