Carrington restores canoeing credibility

Lisa Carrington. Photo / Ben Fraser.
Lisa Carrington. Photo / Ben Fraser.

For almost two years canoe racing in New Zealand paddled through a maelstrom of political infighting and backstabbing but a lot of that was smoothed over in the space of only 40 seconds last year.

Not only did Lisa Carrington become the first New Zealand woman to win a world canoeing title in the high-speed K1 200m, but the 22-year-old also restored credibility to a sport that was dismantling in a very public way as a power struggle unfolded between established coaches and the new administration.

Her victory provided an immediate, and good, distraction from what was being said and written and gave Canoe Racing New Zealand the best marketing the sport could hope for.

There is still an uneasy atmosphere at the highest level but considerable progress has been made as the sport tries to modernise while retaining a link with the individuals who were so successful in the 1980s.

"The sport is looking really good and positive and having Lisa winning a world title, that has done wonders for our sport," said Olympian Steven Ferguson, whose father Ian was a central figure in the row.

"It's the best thing that could have happened. It's taken a lot of limelight and pressure off the guys."

Carrington's win at last year's world championships was extraordinary and unexpected. She had never raced in the event at a world championships before and success was predicted for the future, not present.

She will soon head to London as one of the favourites for gold and yesterday was confirmed in the New Zealand Olympic team alongside her partner in the K2 500m, Erin Taylor, as well as Ben Fouhy (K1 1000m) and Ferguson and Darryl Fiztgerald (K2 1000m).

Carrington expects to succeed - it's what all top athletes need to do - but it's not based on any presumptions just because she's world champion.

"It's weird," she says. "I don't really think of myself as world champion. I'm still competing so it will probably mean more when I finish.

"[Winning at the Olympics] is my ultimate goal. That's what I want to achieve. But Olympic year is our hardest year because it's the pinnacle event. That's the year everyone wants to win it because it only comes around every four years. I'm just going to try to go as fast as I can but so will everyone else. Every girl who is lining up at the Olympics is a threat so I can't write off anyone."

It's an attitude drummed into her by her coach Gordon Walker, the former three-time winner of the Coast to Coast multisport event. Walker represents the new breed of coaches coming through in the sport, the scientific approach.

For him, the right environment is paramount. "If Lisa's happy, I'm happy," he says.

And Carrington is happy.

The pair will head to Europe with Taylor next week to compete in World Cup events in Poland and Germany. They will stay in Europe and train in Munich up to the eve of the Olympics.

The rest of the team will also compete in the World Cups, but Ferguson and Fitzgerald will set up camp in Italy and Fouhy will base himself in England. The entire team will come together intermittently to train.

Walker doesn't think success at the World Cups will provide an accurate indicator to Olympic success and, like Carrington, is virtually disregarding what happened in 2011.

"It's like a re-draw of the cards that were being played in August last year," he says. "The deck is completely new. There will be different athletes, it will be a different environment and it's a whole new year.

"A year before Lisa won, she wasn't even in the event. What if there's another Lisa out there? I don't think you can say, just because I won the world champs I have a good chance at the Olympics, especially in her event which is so ballistic and frenetic."

The K1 200m is like the 50m dash in swimming. It's about hitting maximum speed as fast you can and grimly holding on.

"It's just under 40 seconds so we have a little bit of time to think ... but it's only a little bit," Carrington says. "The 200 is also about skill and tactics. You attack it as hard as you can but you want to be the first person to the first can and then hold on."

Carrington won't compete in the K1 500m in London, preferring to team up with Taylor in the K2 500m which is raced on the same day, and the pair are an outside medal chance.

Fouhy will also be a contender and Ferguson and Fitzgerald have the potential to make at least the final but Carrington is the main hope in the K1 200m.

Canoe Racing New Zealand want to become like cycling and rowing, who are likely to be at the forefront of New Zealand's quest for medals in London, and Carrington is at the centre of those plans. Walker is well aware of what that means for his pupil.

"There's a long way to go before you have a successful enterprise," he says, "and if she isn't successful in London, [her world title] will be quickly forgotten. There's a long way to go before you look at building a really strong organisation based around success."

Carrington has ensured they have made a good start.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 20 Dec 2014 15:26:13 Processing Time: 509ms