Olympics: Childhood Olympic dream nears reality

By David Leggat

It's a scene which would resonate with many New Zealand families.

The Olympic Games are on, the kids sprawled on the floor in front of the television watching heroic deeds from far away.

Sixteen years ago, swimmer Danyon Loader was winning one of his two gold medals at the Atlanta Games.

In one house, Dad turned to his 6-year-old daughter.

"He said, 'you could do that one day. If you put your mind to it, you can go'," Lisa Carrington recalled.

The seed was planted and on Tuesday Carrington is off to Europe preparing for the London Olympics, where she will enter the K1 200m kayak sprint event as defending world champion. She is a proud-as-punch New Zealander, most at home near the water.

"Hamish Carter, Sarah Ulmer, the Evers-Swindells, and more recently Val [Adams]. It's cool. I just think it's awesome seeing Kiwis do well."

Carrington might yet add her name to that illustrious list on the Eton Dorney course in early August.

But there's piles of water to be paddled before then.


It's worth remembering the events in Szeged, Hungary, last August and the sight of Carrington surprising the canoeing world, speeding down her lane to win an unexpected world title.

"To be honest it was too surreal," she reflected on the moment of crossing the finish line. "Did I actually win? I didn't want to celebrate before it happened, but I felt deep down that I'd got it. To me it was just like, wow, too good to be true."

Carrington came to kayaking to help her surf lifesaving. The Whakatane girl joined the local surf club, before switching to the Mount Maunganui club. One thing led to another and for now it's the kayak which holds sway.

She was picked for a junior national team and hasn't looked back.

"I do love surf lifesaving, keep my membership, keep being a lifeguard, and I turn up and see everyone when I can."

Carrington, about half a year away from completing a Bachelor of Arts in Maori and politics, is bright, engaging, chatty. Doing a succession of interviews without a break might not be a regular experience, but she handled it this week with aplomb.

She is also contesting the K2 500m with Erin Taylor in London. Taylor was New Zealand's first female kayaking Olympian, at Beijing four years ago in the K1 500m.

The pair's final at Eton is on August 9; Carrington's final is two days later, on the last day of the kayak programme. The women got together last year and are making encouraging strides.

"Erin is really chilled. If I'm stressing too much she says 'don't worry about it'. She's very supportive and we have a good relationship. I'm pretty lucky to have a great friend to be paddling with every day who can tell you to harden up or cry on the shoulder," Carrington laughed.

Carrington knows "speed bumps" will happen, but in the single and the double event the women will get a good insight into progress at the two World Cup regattas in Poland and Germany this month.

She knows she probably surprised her rivals in the sprint last year. That element won't be there at Eton. Pressure? Of course, but Carrington's view is refreshing. "There's nothing I can do about it. Ultimately I'm just going to rock up there and paddle as fast as I can. Whether it's a gold medal or not, that's the day."

Carrington and Taylor will be based in Munich for most of their Olympic buildup. And they're not simply narrow-visioned athletes.

"Hopefully we can embrace German culture," Carrington said. "Erin learned German last year and it'll be great to learn a bit of history. It's important to keep fresh, so we will travel a bit."

The New Zealand men's 1000m double, Steven Ferguson and Darryl Fitzgerald, are basing themselves near Lake Como in Italy, while K1 specialist Ben Fouhy is preparing primarily in London.

At Los Angeles 28 years ago, New Zealand stunned the canoeing world with four gold medals. Fouhy won the K1 1000m silver at Athens in 2004.

Carrington is a royal chance for the podium, but it's wrong to get carried away about the gold medal just yet. Every athlete knows Olympic year is like no other in the cycle.

To her rivals, Carrington is a walking bullseye. When she allows herself to briefly dream of returning home with a gold medal around her neck, she admits to getting "warm fuzzies".

And if it does happen, it's easy to imagine her Dad's words all those years ago ringing in her ears.

- Hamilton News

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