In 1990 I was still a junior when I raced K2 in the senior worlds in Poland. We got knocked out and I watched the finals from a hill as Knut [Holmann, of Norway] won his first K1 1000m gold. I was pretty pissed off and decided then that I didn’t want to rely on someone else. In future, I wanted to go solo.
I could see Knut was in another league, together with [the USA’s] Greg Barton. But I had a bucketload of hunger and the year after that I was back at the worlds in the K1. I made the final but got my arse handed to me by Holmann, finishing 45-50 metres behind him.
The night after I got home I was talking to my dad about it. He said “Well, if you don’t think anyone can beat him, give it a miss.” Two weeks later I said, “C’mon, let’s go training”. He sat me down at the kitchen table and said, “Do you honestly believe you can beat him? Because if you do, you will. You have to want it more and you’ve got to make him uncomfortable, squash every bit of life out of him”.
I beat Barton in a couple of World Cups leading into Barcelona, but generally stayed under the radar. When it came to the Olympic final, everything was set up for the first three-quarters of the race so that I was no more than half a length behind Knut.
The hardest part of the race for me, though, was at about 600 metres. You know it’s coming – what you might call the extreme-pain wall – but the doubts crept in as my heart rate went through the roof and my vision blurred. But then I thought, this is the real deal – the biggest show on Earth! And at the 750-mark I had a slight peripheral look and was level third – within half a length of Knut.
I believed I was the fastest finisher. I did drop to fourth 200 out, but then I gave it a last, full-throttle push and coming into the last 100 I was level with Holmann, while Barton was dropping back and [Romanian Marin] Popescu was starting to die.
The last part I didn’t know anything – I was numb. It was just stroke by stroke, inch by inch, until I got there by a couple of metres.
Body of Work
The outsider needed a combination of strength and endurance. “Chin-ups, push-ups, dips … my technique was always good and I used the full length of the muscles. Running’s best for cardio, so there were a lot of repeat 400s and 800s, too.”
If Not You, Who?
Winning starts in the head, as Robinson’s father Ron, a national-level surf-ski competitor, well understood. “If your mind’s not right, it doesn’t mean shit,” says Clint. “You can’t allow others to think they’re better.”
Practice Tunnel Vision
“You have to be very focussed not to get distracted at the Olympics,” says Robinson. “I went there to perform, not to party, so I didn’t get drawn into the bullshit.”