After a tough week on the warm waters of Tokyo’s Sea Forest Waterway the smile returned to the face of Olympic legend Danuta Kozak on Saturday, after she helped steer the Hungarian women’s K4 500 to an incredible third successive Games gold medal.

In driving rain the Hungarians shot past early leaders New Zealand and then fought off challenges from Belarus and Poland to maintain their stranglehold on an event they haven’t lost at the Olympics since London 2012. Only Kozak remains from the original quartet.

The win for the Hungarian women’s K4 gave 34-year-old Kozak a sixth career gold medal, moving her into outright second on the overall canoe sprint table, and ended a frustrating week where she won bronze in the K2 500 and missed a medal in the K1 500.

She paid tribute to teammates Tamara Csipes, the silver medalist in the women’s K1 500, and Anna Karasz and Dora Bodonyi.

“I was a little bit sad because I couldn’t make the other races a good race, so that made me a little bit frustrated,” Kozak said.

“But after the end I could do the K4, and I am very proud of everyone in the team.”

Kozak arrived in Tokyo carrying a superwoman tag after winning three gold medals at the Rio Olympics, to add to the two she won in London. Since Rio she had become a mother, and then had an injury that seriously derailed her Olympic preparations.

Despite this people were still expecting big things from their national hero.

“When I arrived at the Games I was very stressed, because in Hungary a lot of media were saying ‘you can do it, you are the biggest Hungarian sportwoman’,” Kozak said.

“For me it was too much stress. After the K4, maybe now I can let it go.

“I am proud of myself, but I am also thankful to all of my team, my husband, my family, because without them I could not do it.”

Kozak revealed the 12-month delay to the Tokyo Olympics worked in her favour, allowing her time to recover from an injury in her lower back and muscle damage in her rib cage.

“I got the injury in February 2020 and it was hard to start again. If the Olympics were last year, maybe I could have competed, but I could not have done three events,” she said.

The short break until the next Olympics might also work in Kozak’s favour. At 34, and sitting on six medals, there is a strong temptation to continue on.

But the pain of being away from her four-year-old daughter for so long is pulling her in the other direction. Especially as her husband is also her coach, meaning both parents have been away on this occasion for three weeks.

“I would like to try for another Olympics, but for now I would like a rest and maybe more time with my family,” she said.

“My daughter is four-years-old. It is hard, because when you go to train and your daughter says ‘hey mummy, don’t go to train, when do the stupid Olympic Games finish, play with me’. But you don’t have time, it’s really hard.

“I don’t think she will be proud just yet because she doesn’t understand. She may be proud when she is ten years old, but now , she just needs her parents.”

Pics by Bence Vekassy

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