Aimee Fisher’s potential Olympic participation hinges on one race in Sydney next February.
On the same stretch of water where rower Rob Waddell made history in 2000, Fisher will attempt to qualify for Paris.
She’ll have one shot – in the K2 500m alongside a yet-to-be-confirmed partner – and success could be career-defining. If the New Zealand duo can win the Oceania championships, essentially by beating Australia, Fisher could compete in both the K1 and K2 classes in France.
If not, her next Games chance will be in Los Angeles in 2028.
Fisher had another option – to trial for the spot in the K4 500m crew – with that boat already qualified. Dame Lisa Carrington, Alicia Hoskin, Olivia Brett and Tara Vaughan sealed that ticket with their remarkable triumph in the world championships in Duisburg in August.
However, that foursome is not guaranteed to be the quartet in Paris, as Canoe Racing New Zealand are running trials next March to select the final Olympics crew. But Fisher has made the difficult decision to opt out of that programme, which started more than a month ago, to focus on her K1 and K2 work.
“Aimee has withdrawn from the process,” CRNZ general manager high performance Nathan Luce told the Herald. “She wanted to focus 100 per cent on the K2 and it requires a lot of energy in the first part of the week for her and with different partners. I think she felt that that commitment, plus maintaining her individual training capacity in the K1, to then add a third event was probably a bit too much.
“She knew it was a risky proposition but she is very confident in her skills, whoever she is with, that they can do the job and that gives her a few options after February in terms of the K1 and K2.”
It’s a tricky situation. Fisher is unquestionably one of the best female single-seat kayakers on the planet. She won the 2021 world championships, then showed her mettle by pushing Carrington to the limit last year at the national championships, winning once and being edged by only 0.11s in another race.
Across the same period, no one else has got close to Carrington, whose winning margin at the 2023 world championships was more than a boat length (1.33s).
Fisher is a rare talent, who is still reintegrating into the national setup after walking away in 2020 following a fallout with the national body. If she was paddling for any other country the 28-year-old would probably already be set for the Olympics – in the K1 - but there is only one spot per nation allocated via the world championships, which Carrington took.
That has created Fisher’s conundrum, but she has backed herself to take an alternative route to Paris. It won’t be easy, as Australia have considerable depth. But Fisher and former surf ski exponent Danielle McKenzie (her likely partner) showed their potential with an eighth place at the world championships, after only teaming up five weeks before that regatta.
“We are confident,” said Luce. “Aimee is all in for the K2 and they have come a long way over the last year.”
The women’s K2 team will be finalised by the end of January, ahead of the Oceania championships, which will take place from February 16-18 at the Sydney Olympic course in Penrith.
New Zealand will also hope to qualify a men’s K2 crew, which should be easier as Australia have already clipped their Paris ticket so won’t be in the race.
Finding that duo is probably the biggest challenge, with Luce saying there are currently 12 men in contention across the country and “not a lot” separating the top seven or eight. The K4 women’s pool consists of eight paddlers, including the four incumbents, with final crew trials scheduled for March.
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns.