Kayaker's Olympic grief turn to golden joy

Four years ago he was inconsolable, sobbing uncontrollably on the river deck after a disastrous Beijing Olympic campaign where his crew split apart.

But on Thursday kayaker David Smith wore the broadest of grins and felt numb with joy as he and his tight-knit band of surf lifesavers claimed Australia's sixth gold medal at the London Olympics, and first in a canoe crew boat at any Games.

Smith, Tate Smith (unrelated), Murray Stewart and Jake Clear broke the nation's 12-day victory drought at Eton Dorney when they took on the might of Europe and prevailed with a commanding paddle.

Despite a false start putting them on edge, the Australians shot out of the blocks and were never headed, holding on in the final 100m to keep Hungary and the Czech Republic at bay.

The silver medal-winning crew from last year's world titles, they had focussed on their endurance over the last 200m in preparation after they squandered a similar lead to Germany 12 months ago.

"Always when you come second the year before you are a little bit more hungry and that result showed we were more hungry for it," said an overjoyed Smith.

"It's numbing, I don't know what to say."

Those emotions were in stark contrast to four years ago when the highly-touted Australian K4 crew, led by 1992 Olympic champion Clint Robinson, finished fourth of five boats in their repechage to miss the final.

Smith, then 21, couldn't cope with the failure and cried aloud in grief for several minutes.

At the time, Robinson claimed his young crew cracked under the pressure. But there was also division within as the veteran demanded they paddle in his own specially-designed and crafted kayak despite their protests.

"Beijing hit home really quickly, really hard (but) right now I'm high on excitement," Smith said.

"In the last few years those memories have been erased and (today) that was never really in the back of my mind.

"But it is good to prove that yes we are the best in the world and Beijing was just a once-off and I'm a better paddler than what I was then."

Tate Smith was also in the Robinson-led K4 boat in 2008, while Clear raced with Robinson in the K2 without success.

Despite the ructions at the time, Tate Smith said there was still plenty of admiration for Robinson, rating him a great of the sport who continues to inspire.

"It was a tough learning curve, at your first Games, it was so big," he said of the Beijing meltdown. "But you know what? I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for Clint and that experience of four years ago.

"I learned so much and I've pretty much came back because I didn't want to finish like that."

The only non-European boat in the final, they provided just the third ever Australian canoeing triumph in Olympic history, following two individual K1 successes by Robinson 20 years ago and Ken Wallace in Beijing.