After racing the two biggest K1 200 races of his life, Steve Bird went to bed on Friday night wondering what he might be able to do in the final.
The hours after his incredible successive PB’s, and qualification for the Rio Olympic gold medal race, were almost surreal; people who he hadn’t heard from in ten years were sending him congratulatory texts, his Facebook messages were going ballistic.
Bird put it all on the line in the final, finishing eighth, but said after he was a little disappointed with his performance.
His time in the final was two seconds slower than the day before, but there was a headwind.
“I felt good for the first 50, but I didn’t think I transitioned well into that mid-race phase as well as I could have,” he said.
“I was a lot more relaxed, compared to leading into the heat and semi. It’s very happy-go-lucky for me in this situation.
“I had a horrible sleep overnight, but it’s been overwhelming the support from family and friends at home. It was an overwhelming 24 hours.”
There was some good news for Bird, with his English training partner, Liam Heath, winning gold.
“I’m extremely chuffed for him,” Bird said.
“There were periods in training where we would do measured efforts against each other, and I’d actually get quite despondent, but considering the way he’s handling the rest of the field here, I look back and I don’t feel so bad.”
There’s no doubt Bird is currently racing in the best form of his career, but the 28-year-old is not sure about his future.
The K2 200, in which he raced with good friend Jesse Phillips in London, is being scrapped from the Tokyo program, and Bird is not sure he has enough improvement in him to be competitive in four years’ time in the K1.
“I’m definitely having a year off, and then I’ll reassess,” he said.
“I don’t know what’s happening regarding Tokyo, but I’ll see in a year’s time, if I’m itching to get back, or enjoying the rest of my life too much.
“I definitely feel like the event is going to get quicker and quicker, and it’s going to carry on attracting athletes more suited to this shorter distance. It would take another four years to get point one or point two, so I have to go and work out if it’s worth it.”
Bird was full of praise for K2 partner Jesse Phillips, who took on a coaching and support role after missing out on Olympic selection.
He was in Rio to support his Perth teammate.
“It was invaluable to have someone there to be a coach, to be a friend, to be someone that understands the training and the pressures of racing,” Bird said.
“He’s a calm person, he doesn’t get hysterical, it’s been incredible to be able to be here with him, after being in the K2 for so long and having such a big journey.
“It’s very special to have Jesse here, and for that matter, my whole family in the stands and back home and in South Africa.”