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Gold medalist helps train local kayakers
August 2, 2017

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Young kayakers at the South Florida Canoe Kayak Club in Cape Coral have been receiving training from a woman who knows what it takes to compete against the best in the world - and win.

Susanne Gunnarsson, a 14-time world champion, five-time Olympian and a gold medalist, has spent the last couple of weeks helping the club's young kayakers prepare for the Sprint National Championships to be held Aug. 2-4 in Clermont, an event the club is hosting despite the site being three hours away.

Gunnarsson, who has trained in Cape Coral, has been training other athletes, internationally and locally, and has written programs for athletes in the final weeks before the event.

She was training a Swedish junior kayaker when she came here to train in the winter months. She loves the area for all its canals and Lake Kennedy.

"It's lovely here. They talked about me doing a program here and I started to do that and then came here to help them the last few weeks," Gunnarsson said. "I love to coach kids. I love to see what they have learned and going faster even after just a few days. It's great to see and I hope they're as proud as I am they're getting better."

Gunnarsson said the youths have a chance to be very good, provided they work hard and believe the sport is fun.

"It's two and even three sessions a day all year. Many of them can become so good," Gunnarsson said. "We have Olympic Hopes and the Olympics are in 2020 in Tokyo. Maybe some of them can go there."

Cape Coral's Alex Atia, getting ready for school at North Fort Myers High in the fall, said he looks forward to the championships where he will race in singles 200, 500 and 1,000 meters under Gunnarsson's guidance.

"I worked hard this summer and did a lot of training. We do endurance and speed training and it's hard," said Atia, who took up the sport two years ago. "Her coaching me is an interesting experience. She helps a lot and points out things that will really help you."

Gunnarsson, from Sweden, competed in every Olympics from 1980 to 1996, winning the gold in her final games in Atlanta in 1996 in the 500-meter K-2, and silvers in Los Angeles (1984) in the 500-meter K-4 and in Barcelona (1992) in the 500-meter K-2.

She also medaled 14 times in various world championships, including gold in Copenhagen in 1993.

Melinda Mack, who runs the SFCKC, said the club is sending 16 athletes from its developmental and performance teams. It also is sending athletes to the Olympic Hopes regatta in the Czech Republic in September, depending on how well they do in Clermont next week.

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