Kayaking: Keep it simple, says Carrington

By David Leggat

Kiwi will focus on her first stroke and take it from there defending her K1 200m Olympic gold — and adding one for the K1 500m, reports David Leggat.
Lisa Carrington has dominated the K1 200 event since stunning the paddling world in 2011 in Hungary by winning the world championship sprint title. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lisa Carrington has dominated the K1 200 event since stunning the paddling world in 2011 in Hungary by winning the world championship sprint title. Photo / Brett Phibbs

You're Lisa Carrington, and you're on the startline at the Rio Olympics.

You are the defending K1 200m Olympic champion and aiming to win two titles in four back-to-back days of intense competition.

You look along the line at your rivals. What's going through your mind?

"Focus on the first stroke," Carrington said in a statement of simplicity which cuts through the swirl of emotions.

Start as you mean to go on.

"It's a whole bunch of things. Trying to get my confidence and rid myself of any fear of being scared.

"It's the point where you really want to be confident and have a lot of courage to race well. But for me it's about keeping it simple."

You could also call it not getting ahead of yourself.

The 26-year-old Carrington is a far cry from the young woman, now based in Auckland but originally from Ohope, who stunned the paddling world in 2011 in Szeged, Hungary when she won the world championship sprint title.

People watching her a year later in London as she sped to the line to win gold would have noticed no wild flailing of arms. No vigorous punching the water. No joyous scream of delight to the skies. Instead there was a composed look, a small smile.

Job done.

Since then, the former surf lifesaver has dominated the 200m event, winning three more world titles and proving unbeatable when it has mattered, consistently finding an extra edge to get to the finish line first when push has come to shove.

In the past three years she has also stepped up her proficiency in the K1 500m discipline.

There was a bronze in Duisberg, Germany three years ago, a silver in Moscow in 2014 before finally climbing a second summit, gold in Milan last year.

And so Carrington will fly off to Europe today with coach Gordon Walker and New Zealand's only male Olympic paddler, Marty McDowell, with a giant bullseye on her back as far as her rivals are concerned.

Only five New Zealanders have won two or more gold medals at the same Olympics - Peter Snell at Tokyo in 1964, when he did the 800m/1500m middle-distance double; paddlers Ian Ferguson, Paul Macdonald and Alan Thompson at Los Angeles in 1984; and swimmer Danyon Loader in the 200-400m freestyle double at Atlanta in 1996.

Elite company, and while it's well within Carrington's capabilities, there's no point getting silly about it.

It's an absolute given that the game gets far harder in Olympic year. Athletes who have, in a sense, trodden water a couple of years out from a Games step up.

You don't get remembered for your achievements midway through a four-year Olympic cycle.

"I don't really approach it as being defending Olympic champion," Carrington said.

"I think it's more about improving and trying to be better and doing things really well.

"The last four years has been really cool and having seen the progression from four years ago to today has been nice.

"It's been a gradual build.

"Compared to four years ago it's quite different. I feel four years older, and four years more experienced."

Carrington also knows there's a limit to changes Walker and she can make between now and early August.

"We call it sharpening our tools, refining things to Rio. Nothing big, just refining," Carrington said.

Her relationship with Walker is strong. She talks of his intuitive ability to know what the right approach is in training, of when changes might need to be made.

You meet Carrington and are left with a feeling that beneath the smile, she has a bucket-load of steely single-mindedness.

They do have disagreements, and that's fine by Walker. He might have a plan in mind for a specific day and gets a sense the champ doesn't fancy it.

Not in an "I'm not doing that today" way, he said, but "she might just give me the impression she doesn't want to do it".

"You need to have enough security in yourself, and the relationship, that you can have a disagreement and that's a good thing.

"Hopefully we'll have a few more. It's about challenging each other."

Walker, who has been around elite sport for years, rates Carrington as an exceptional athlete.

"She's a very hard worker, always aspiring to want to become better. From my point of view she's very enjoyable to work with."

Whatever public expectations are held for Carrington in Rio, they won't compare with what she heaps on herself.

But she talks of ticking the appropriate boxes, doing everything to make sure she gives herself the best chance, then "whatever happens on the day happens".

"You go through a lot of emotional roller coasters. Being scared of racing, scared of losing.

"For me it's a maximum of three minutes racing [in her two disciplines]. It's such a short period so you have to really value your time outside of the racing because you spend years and years training and maybe an hour of your entire life racing."

Walker can distinguish the challenges of the 200m and 500m events.

Carrington's dominance over the shorter distance means she must have a psychological hold over quality paddlers who have not beaten her on the big days.

The 500m is different.

"There's a lot more established athletes," Walker said. "It's an event that's been around since the very start for women so from that point of view there is a large contingent of strong athletes.

"A few more things can go wrong in that race. You may have a greater variability in results.

"But the 200m is about pure power."

So what's likely to be in Carrington's mind as the finish line draws near in Rio? The 200m is over in a flash but in the 500m "I count down my strokes, from 150m to go.

"I start counting in 20s, then 10s then five strokes to get to the finish.

"It's great to finish," she quipped. "You get to the point where it hurts a lot, but especially when you've had a really good performance, when it's an honest effort, that's the thing you can be happy with."

Carrington and McDowell will compete in two World Cup regattas in Duisburg from May 20 and Montemor, Portugal, starting on June 3, before the Olympics.

- NZ Herald

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