It might sound obvious to suggest eyes are quite handy when it comes to competing at the Olympics and Luuka Jones is finally appreciating just how true that is.

The canoe slalom competitor had corrective surgery on her eyes in April which means she doesn't have to wear contact lenses and, crucially, doesn't have to close her eyes when competing. Previously, she would shut them in the hope of keeping the splashes out and the contacts in or wipe with them with a shoulder as she paddled to find her focus.

"It wasn't ideal," she said.

No kidding.


"The surgery was something I had dreamed of having for ages because it was just such a hassle. It still took some getting used to because I was subconsciously closing my eyes. I wasn't used to it. I rolled over on the bottom of the course, opened my eyes and looked around. It's fantastic.

"It just gives me way more confidence down the course because I can actually open my eyes."

Jones is confident for other reasons as well. The 23-year-old finished last in the K1 women's canoe slalom in Beijing - it didn't help she qualified late so spent little time training on the course before competition - and has improved considerably since.

At last year's world championships, her first, she finished with a time inside the top 10 but incurred a couple of two-second time penalties for hitting a gate which sent her down the field - competitors negotiate a series of gates as well as the white water and clock.

She has also spent most of the year training on the Olympic course in London and feels she knows every rapid and eddy on the man-made river complete with plastic rocks and chlorinated water.

It's a bit different to where it all started for the Jones. She grew up in Tauranga close to a kayaking adventure park complex and, at the age of 11, exchanged lessons for trimming the agapanthus. Jones discovered canoe slalom at 14 and five years later found herself at the Olympics.

Mike Dawson rounds out the New Zealand presence in London and will compete in the men's K1 event on Sunday (NZT), with Jones due to go the following day. Competition starts with qualifying, followed by semifinals and finals a couple of days later.

Jones wants to "seize the moment" in London, like every Olympian before her.


The key will be for her to paddle aggressively but cleanly. The first part of the equation won't be a problem - it's the latter which can be an issue - but Jones knows if she holds back she won't place anywhere near the top.

"It's tough. You have to paddle aggressively on this course because otherwise the water will take you and throw you about. I am just going to try to stick to the lines I have set through the course and be clean. A couple of two-second penalties [for each touch of the gates] can put you a long way back in the field. I know if I put down a good run and I am aggressive, then top five is realistic."

She has said previously winning gold in Rio is the ultimate objective but her sights, quite literally, are on the next week.