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By Jess Fox
It was a very uncertain lead up to the Olympics. For us it was such a big build up with the postponement. Trying to reschedule, plan everything and stay adaptable - the unknown was challenging. We didn't know until two weeks out whether or not we would be going overseas before the Olympics to compete in the World Cup events. Despite the risks, I'm so glad we did now because it had been so long since I'd done any international competitions and being back on the start lines of the World Cups was great preparation for the Games. In terms of the team, I guess we were just super, super careful with Covid-19. We had our own little pods and bubbles because the most important thing in that lead up was not catching it, otherwise your Olympic dream would be over. Everyone had this heightened level of awareness, nerves and stress anytime we left the accommodation. We took many precautions including travelling in separate cars to ensure we weren't mingling too much in case one team member caught it.
We obviously knew it would be a very different Olympics without the spectators. It was a shame looking up at that grandstand and it being empty. It was so beautiful and the venue was amazing but, at the end of the day, it was still empty, and so quiet. It would have been amazing to have the crowd there and feel that energy that is so unique to an Olympics. But in saying that, to me, even though there were other restrictions and no spectators, we had to do daily testing and all of that, it still felt like the Olympics and the most important thing was to be able to compete. Even with everything going on, it was still that massive event that we'd worked so hard for. You still felt sick with nerves. You still felt like there was that pressure and expectation. You still feel that excitement and adrenaline that you feel at an Olympic Games. Many athletes, who were at their first Games, had nothing to compare it to. I've fortunately been to two other Olympics so I've had the experience with the crowd, being up on the podium, going to other sporting events, partying, being a tourist in the host city and making the most of everything an Olympics has to offer. This time it was different, but it was still very special in its own unique way. There was an immense feeling of gratitude and relief just getting to that start line.
It was such a rollercoaster of emotions I think leading to my final run. I had such a big build-up and crossing that line winning bronze in K1 was sort of bittersweet because I was obviously still so proud to win a third Olympic medal, but I was also so gutted. Look, without that last mistake, the two-second penalty in the second last gate, I was in line for gold. What this did mean though, was that I was so hungry to do better in the C1. Those 48 hours after the kayak was all about managing my emotions and my mental capacity to bounce back for the C1 for when it was really down to the wire for that final race. Crossing that finish line, all the emotions overcame me. That pure joy, elation and sheer relief - I honestly can't explain it. I think winning that gold was achieving a big dream for me, but also for my family, and it did probably help me digest the kayak a little bit more. To win two medals at the same Olympics and becoming the first person to do that in my sport is very special to me. Being the first ever Women's Canoe Olympic Champion and being part of that historic moment is something I'll always cherish. When I re-watch the kayak or see any footage of the canoe, I still get teary. It's still very raw and emotional and I don't want that to ever change. I want that feeling to stay forever and I'm sure it will.
But now the focus is on the next goal. Paris is definitely a goal of mine. It's going to come around so quickly now with it being only two-and-a-half years away - which just seems nuts! Normally as soon as you finish a Games, you're like 'four years to go until another one? That's going to take forever.' but the Paris Games in 2024 will be here before we know it. We have World Championships this year and then the qualification period starts so I'll probably be spending a bit more time in Paris getting to know that course and eating lots of pastries along the way, obviously I'd be lying if I said I wasn't very excited about it. The Games in Tokyo were very special and unique, but that said, I hope we don't have the same Covid situation ever again - no one wants that, right? So when Paris does come around, it will very much be a celebration of the whole country, for the whole city of Paris, and I think they'll put on a good show. It will ultimately be very creative and engaging for the fans. I just can't wait to tackle that challenge and hopefully qualify - bring it on! For me personally though, given my French background, there's also the hope that my family might be able to attend the Games. I do feel at home in Paris as well and it would probably, to some degree, feel like a home Olympics without the pressure of a home Olympics.
Looking ahead in 10 years' time, that takes us to the 2032 Brisbane Games. I don't know whether I'll still be competing then? Probably not. But you never know, do you? Perhaps the idea of being in a home Olympics will keep me going for that long? I think I'd love to be involved in some way in the Brisbane campaign and just sort of celebrating what it is to have the Olympics for the country. I remember the impact of Sydney 2000 and what that had on our generation so I can't imagine what Brisbane will do for Australian sport. So I'd really like to do something to help out, whether that be in the organising committee or with media or even as a mentor or coach, but I'd love to be involved somehow that's for sure. Prior to that, I'm not really sure what my trajectory will be post-Olympics. I think it's important to have some back-up and some study under my belt for once my sporting career finishes. I think for any athlete, being able to transition out of that and into something new is always in the back of your mind. There's no denying that a big gaping hole will exist which was previously filled with training and competitions, but I guess you've got to find something you're passionate about to try and replace that unique and unrivalled feeling that sport brings you.