Canoeing: Quartet thank coach for getting them to believe in themselves

By David Leggat

From left, Caitlin Ryan, Kayla Imrie, Jaimee Lovett and Aimee Fisher have made rapid strides in their sport in the past year. Photo / Getty Image
From left, Caitlin Ryan, Kayla Imrie, Jaimee Lovett and Aimee Fisher have made rapid strides in their sport in the past year. Photo / Getty Image

Fancy casting about for a surprise New Zealand medal winner at the Rio Olympics? You could do far worse than choose four women going to their first Games.

As is something of a Games tradition for New Zealand success, they'll be sitting down. It may be pushing the boat out a touch, but Jaimee Lovett, Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie have made such rapid strides in the last year in the K4 canoe sprint that you'd be a mug to discount their chances of winning New Zealand a medal in Rio. If you'd told them that at the start of last year, they might have given you a "yeah sure" look. But times have changed and the quartet are serious contenders.

Central to that was the arrival of Danish coach Rene Olsen, a former top class international paddler who, among a pile of knowledge he brought to the programme, has helped instil an essential ingredient: self belief.

The quartet won a World Cup in Portugal last year, and secured a place for a K4 boat at the world championships in Milan in August.

"You don't know where to start," an admiring Lovett said of Olsen's work with them. "He brought an insane amount of information and a completely different take on what we know.

"But one of the first times we met him, he said 'you girls can go to the Olympics and win a medal'." As Lovett put it, at the time they weren't even sure they could sit in a boat together. "That was the biggest thing. With all his expertise and knowledge, it's his belief in us beginning to believe in ourselves.

"Before last year, we'd go away and hope to have a really good race. You'd pray that if we could have the race of our lives we might make a final. Whereas this year we know we can make a final. It's that undying belief that we are good enough."

There's a sense that Lovett is the unofficial captain of the quartet, but she laughs it off: "It's because I'm the oldest [27] and I sit in the front".

Her path into kayaking followed that of her friend Lisa Carrington. They both attended Whakatane High School - Lovett one year older - were both into surf lifesaving in Mt Maunganui and both went to the Youth Olympics in 2007. Where Carrington, one year younger, took to kayaking quickly, Lovett admitted she was in limbo for a while, "just hacking away trying to keep in the game". But the enlarging of a core group of quality paddlers opened up possibilities.

Lovett believes that while there's an element of "pinch me" about the K4's progress, she reckons a closer study on what they've put into their paddling tells a different story.

"If you look at what we did, and the training, we should be where we are."

Lovett says life for the four right now is "eat, sleep, train and repeat. There's not a lot else going on". Everything else is on hold. She believes there won't be any surprises among the leading K4 nations this year.

"The thing with kayak is it's about A to B, there's no external influences. You're measured on time and have a fairly good idea what we need to be doing over certain distances to be good. The top four may shuffle around a bit but we believe we can be in that top four."

Carrington is tipped for at least one gold medal, but she might not be the only New Zealand woman paddler coming home with plenty to celebrate from Rio.

- NZ Herald

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