Over the past few months, British Olympic prospect Ed McKeever has found himself increasingly compared to Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt. Nicknamed the 'Bolt of the water', the canoeist has been enjoying levels of success similar to his contemporary, but while both are heading to London as expectant gold medalists, McKeever insists the comparison stops there.
“A lot of people are saying that,” he muses. “There are a couple of differences just to glance at us. I'm quite short, and I don't really have the taste for chicken nuggets that he does.”
McKeever's humour prompts a smile, adding a touch of humility to an otherwise timid character. While Bolt's larger than life personality has seen him become a household name, over the past few years McKeever has been quietly establishing himself as one of the finest sprint canoeists in the world.
Sitting in a coffee shop in central London, he has the air of a man who is happy with the relative anonymity he has despite being a multiple gold medalist.
“To be honest that's quite nice. I don't really want to be mobbed or anything like that,” admits the reserved McKeever.
“I'm not really fussed for it,” he continues. “I take things in my stride. I don't really get too phased. It's probably quite frustrating for some people, but I don't mind.”
Despite not exuding the same effervescent nature of Bolt, McKeever doesn't blend into the crowd easily. The Wiltshere-based athlete's powerful frame is impressive, and his broad shoulders offer a stark contrast to the tentative personality he shows to the public.
At 28 years-of-age, McKeever is in the prime of his career and after rubber-stamping his place in the British Olympic team with yet more success in the canoe world cup, he is entering the games as the man to beat.
McKeever is the latest in the line of British athletes to help canoeing step out of the shadow of rowing, building on from Tim Brabants' gold medal in the K-1 1000 meters in Beijing four years ago. But canoeing still has a way to go before it creates a draw similar to that of rowing.
“Canoeing has been coming up a lot,” McKeever contends. “The rowing profile is high due to the success of the British team over the past 20 years. To consistently get gold medals helps a lot.
“Obviously we're still behind other sports in terms of that, but it's come a long way so far.”
With the abolishion of the 500 metre event in favour for the more explosive 200 metres, there is a hope that sprint canoeing can be the flagship event in an underappreciated sport. But what is it about the shorter format that will entice people to watch?
“I think that there is that raw power. People go straight from the gun and the close racing is quite exciting,” says McKeever, who's perks up when the conversation switches to his sport.
“The spectators can see the whole race unfold just before their eyes, rather than in a rowing race where there's a whole two kilometers to watch and you have to follow it for six minutes.”
McKeever has been competing since the age of 11, having initially been coaxed into trying it by a friend.
After tasting success in the junior ranks, he was encouraged to take the next step and under coach Alex Nikonorov has been able to establish himself as one of the best sprint canoeists in the world.
“It's nice to be out on the water while people are stuck in an office,” McKeever explains. “I really enjoy the racing and the challenge of going head to head. It's quite a nice feeling to be standing on top of a podium as well.”
McKeever's candid assessment of being on the water offers contrast to his alternative life as a trainee accountant. And while he is four exams away from being fully qualified, he insists that his mind is away from the books and firmly on London.
“I'm just concentrating on turning up on August 11 in the best form I can be in and hopefully the race can sort itself out.”
Much like preparing for an examination, McKeever is fully focused on the lead up to the games, rather than actually competing. He calmly sits there explaining how his training is preparing him for the rigours of the event, but will he be so calm come August?
“I'm fairly calm at the moment, but I might not be so much on the day,” admits McKeever. “Hopefully I'll be able to control it. I guess I'm more focussed on the process at the moment rather than the outcome. I've used the world cup events to test myself against my competition, to see what I need to work on and see what tweaks need to be made.”
While he may not be as charasmatic as Usain Bolt, Ed McKeever has the talent to write his name in Olympic folklore as a silent but deadly hero of these games.