Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Water Sports: Canoeing should be big winner after Games

Lisa Carrington. Photo / Getty
Lisa Carrington. Photo / Getty

Less than three-quarters of a minute's work and around 100 strokes of Lisa Carrington's paddle could translate to millions of extra dollars over four years for Canoe Racing New Zealand by mid-December.

That's when high performance sports funding and new targeted sports will be revealed for the next Olympic cycle.

Of the six targeted Olympic sports, swimming and triathlon did not deliver medals at London. Medal-winning sports like canoeing and equestrian, are lining up to replace them for a sustained four-year investment. Canoeing received $4.3 million (5 per cent of the budget) in the last cycle.

With gold in the K1 200m at the London Games, Carrington is the new face of kayaking in New Zealand, replacing Ben Fouhy, Paul MacDonald and Ian Ferguson.

Her coach Gordon Walker, a three-time Coast To Coast champion, is the background figure who helped steer her campaign. Carrington's gold is the first by a New Zealander in the sport in 24 years and the first by a woman.

Aged 23, Carrington was not born when Ferguson and MacDonald took gold in the K2 500 at Seoul.

Walker (40) not only helped break a gender barrier, he did so in an environment which, until recently, had been poisonous with well-documented feuds. Now the sport can embrace a new dawn.

Walkercould filter out the squabbling: "I know if I want to do something I can be one-eyed and staunch about sticking to it. It was a challenging time so we had to separate from the murky stuff and concentrate on what we could control. If you believe what you're doing is right, you can stick to a plan even if others don't think it's right.

"The trust between an athlete and coach comes to the fore. Everything Lisa did in her campaign translated to what she did on the day. You don't go to bed one night and wake up superhuman. She'd done that sort of thing on many occasions like when she won the world championships. She knew she was good enough."

Walker is renowned for his methodical nature and systematic dissection of sport to get the best out of himself. He puts it down to having "a retired physics teacher for a Dad, who will only deal in logic".

CRNZ high performance manager Grant Restall says Walker's constant questioning triggered Carrington's original switch to the K1 200m when the discipline became eligible for the Olympics.

"Lisa's a bit like Peter Snell in that she has amazing natural speed," Walker says. "She's able to sustain quite a training load. Once we de-mystified the structure to show why we were doing it, she was away. Similarly, Lisa improved her paddling technique. When she put her blade into the water, she would tip her weight away rather than towards the paddle to get better propulsion. She enjoyed the fact that if she got better technically, it turned into better speed.

"Physically, she's exceptional. She's powerful for her size and can move a weight really quickly. She can thank her parents for their genes ... but I think her Maori heritage helped her get more rhythm and feel too," Walker quips.

Restall says Walker's transition from selfish athlete to selfless coach has impressed him since the former multisport champion took on a role with CRNZ in March 2010. Walker admits he has coached in some capacity for the best part of 20 years but the key change has been doing it at a high performance level. "It's harder and more involved than I thought. High performance coaching tends to be quite strategic - a balance between science and art. It's about observing training specifics and checking what an athlete is doing technically versus coaxing them to do something they are struggling to do.

"I'm just pleased I could help someone do something they probably could've done anyway. It has changed Lisa's life. Others will have seen that and will be inspired to emulate her. People can see it is possible."

- Herald on Sunday

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