By this time next year she could be regarded as our greatest Olympian, but talking about her legacy doesn't come easy for Lisa Carrington.

It's partly due to her natural humility, and also typical of athletes still competing.

But it's a subject that can't be avoided, as New Zealand's kayaking fortunes seem to be on the rise every year.

Look at this year's world championships in Szeged, Hungary; aside from Carrington, the women's K4 500m crew have already qualified for their A final, along with the K2 500m combination (which includes a 19-year-old rookie) and the new K2 500 men's crew are a strong top eight chance.


These are golden days for the sport, and it correlates with Carrington's remarkable feats this decade.

Eight years ago she became the first Kiwi woman to win world championship gold, and she has since returned to the top of the podium on seven other occasions (Paul MacDonald's three was the previous record).

The Ohope product has also claimed three Olympic medals (including two golds) in a four-year span, after kayaking earned just one between 1992 and 2008.

It's difficult to find an athlete who has done more to revitalise and popularise a sport in recent times.

Lauren Boyle kept swimming afloat from the funding streams provided by her performances, while Dame Valerie Adams and Nick Willis contributed massively to track and field's resurgence since 2010.

Rob Waddell set new standards in rowing and inspired a generation.

But Carrington has provided the quantum leap; no one has dragged a sport from the basement to the penthouse so effectively, and so rapidly.

It's easy to forget, but kayaking was in a parlous state before she emerged.


The sport was rocked by infighting at a coaching and administration level in 2010 and 2011, and a generation of male paddlers who followed Ben Fouhy couldn't fulfil their potential.

Then along came Carrington, a pocket rocket on the water that made the sport cool, relevant and successful again.

Her achievements have drawn athletes, sponsors, attention and most importantly funding to the sport, which has changed the paradigm.

As one example, the team were based in Europe for a month ahead of these world championships, compared to fewer than two weeks back in 2012. There are also extra coaches and specialist support staff.

"It's nice to see that we have been able to grow the sport in the last few years, with more funding and support and really good people attracted to our sport in the management type area and the coaching," Carrington tells the Weekend Herald. "There's a pathway for the athletes to step into, compared to what it used to be, where you could either make the team, or you can't, and more opportunities for other paddlers to come through."

Carrington's performances have been the catalyst, but she tends to play down her direct influence.

"It's quite humbling," she says. "It's nice to know that the sport will continue for a wee while with these paddlers coming through, and hopefully they can pick up the things that we have learned while I've been paddling and it has been passed down, so we have a really great opportunity when racing the rest of the world."

"I'm definitely proud of that; it's not something that I asked for but it's cool to see it is something that occurs when you do the things you do."

Long-time coach Gordon Walker says Carrington's legacy is massive, but can't yet be defined.

"It's hard to say when you are in it and living it," says Walker. "[But] the best thing she has done is be consistent. She has stayed in the game, with incredibly high standards, and has helped a lot of people join in with her. The girls here now, and the ones taking up the sport, are really helping the growth within the sport."

Lisa Carrington, Aimee Fisher, Kayla Imrie and Caitlin Ryan win the women's K4 500 racing in Szeged, Hungary this week. Photo / Photosport
Lisa Carrington, Aimee Fisher, Kayla Imrie and Caitlin Ryan win the women's K4 500 racing in Szeged, Hungary this week. Photo / Photosport

That's epitomised in the rise of the women's K4 500 crew.

They finished fifth in Rio in 2016, the first time since 1992 New Zealand had the big boat at a Games, before a superb performance at last year's world championships, pipped for gold by 0.01 by Hungary.

Carrington, who joined the crew in 2017, is enjoying the group dynamic.

"It's really cool to be working in a team and have other skills to work on," she says. "How do I get the most out of other people and vice-versa? It's hard work trying to get four people going fast at the right moment but that is quite exciting."

It's a physical challenge as well, as Carrington will have less than 90 minutes between the finals of the K1 500 and the K4 500 on Sunday night (NZT).

"Going from one boat to another is not easy," says Walker. "It's like playing a game of [rugby] sevens, then running to the next field and saying 'hey I'll jump into a game of 15s now'."

But Carrington has had a marked impact on the crew.

"It's her skill level, her physicality," says Walker. "And she is in the front of the boat, she sets the tone, sets the pattern for what has become a really good team."

The 30-year-old also continues to juggle the two individual disciplines of K1 200m and K1 500m.

In 2015, she became just the third women in history to be world champion in both, and is striving for the perfect balance, as she pursues the incomparable Hungarian Danuta Kozak, who has won consecutive Olympic golds in the longer event.

"It's about being able to take my aggression and approach in the 200 race and have the confidence to be a little more like that in my 500 event," says Carrington. "It's been pretty challenging because it's a really difficult distance to sprint, but I'm getting more confidence in that event. It takes time and experience to get the most out of all the events that I do, but that comes down to patience."

Walker, who says the contrast is like 400m and 800m in athletics, feels it has been an advantage.

"She is better at either event because she is doing the other one," says Walker. "There is no way she would be as good in the 500 without the 200 and vice-versa."

Szeged, the third biggest city in Hungary, nestled against the southern border with Serbia and Romania, has special memories for Carrington.

She won her first world championship (2011, K1 200) there and is undefeated in the sprint event since May 2012, encompassing two Olympics, six world championships, and a multitude of world cups and oceania events.

"It's an event I have won for a wee while but I don't take it for granted," says Carrington, who races the K1 200 final on Saturday night (NZT).

"I feel like I have been around for a while but I have had quite a few other things to work on. What has really helped is having other events, like the 500, to work on and progress and also the K4. By doing all that other stuff it doesn't put so much pressure on the 200, but all the same it supports it pretty well."

Another triumph next year in Tokyo will see her become the first Kiwi to claim gold in three successive Games, and surely in the conversation as our greatest Olympian, alongside Sir Peter Snell, Ian Ferguson, Adams and Mark Todd.