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What do I love about kayaking? Every race is different. Every river’s different, every course is different, so that variety is always very challenging. When you’re at the Olympic Games there’s that massive crowd, but sometimes we’re in the middle of nowhere. Some remote place with beautiful surrounds.
It’s something I’ll keep doing even when I finish competitive racing in slalom. I love the competitive side of things, but I love the leisure part as well.
The sport is moving away from natural rivers. Artificial courses are just so much more reliable, and that makes competition more fair. With natural courses, you do get variation in the water. It might be high for one person, and then two hours later there’ll be a lot less. But when we do get the chance to race on a natural course, it’s always fantastic. It’s the heart of the sport, where it all began, so it’s great to get back there.
My favourite place to race so far has been at the London Olympics. Not just because it was unlike any other event I’d competed at – the atmosphere was just electric. But the course itself was the biggest man-made course around, and the most demanding the whole way down. If you paddle on a natural course, you might have one section that’s pretty big and then maybe a bit of a rest, while London’s just constant. It’s really continuous, big water. I loved that.
I was born in France and I still love racing there. My favourite natural course is there, at Bourg-Saint-Maurice in the Alps. It’s a beautiful river, really big, pushy water and it’s one of the best courses in the world, so we’re hoping there’ll be a big international race there soon. It’s been a few years since they’ve had a big race. It is quite cold – even in the summer we’re wearing long sleeves and thick gear. Snow melts make the best rapids.
The main rule in the wild is never to kayak alone. You can also tell when to be careful pushing it if the water is brown. That’s one indicator. You usually can just see, looking at it, that the main features you’re used to seeing aren’t there anymore or they’re even bigger than usual. You know there’s a risk that there might be some logs coming down or something moved in the river.
It’s a little bit like racecar driving. We always analyse a course from the side of the bank. We watch the demonstration runners go down, we’ll figure out the best line. And then a lot of it comes down to just trust in your ability, your technical ability, your mental ability, because you’ve got to stay focused from the top of that run down to the bottom. If you don’t time it, if you’re not in the best place at that first turn, you know that the next turn’s going to be impacted.
Competing at this level has made me realise how important the mental aspect of sport is. The power of your mind to switch. I could feel really sad, wake up feeling terrible and really sluggish and slow and slack, and I’ve got to race at the Olympics or I’ve got to race in the world championships. I’ve got to know that I can switch it around even though I don’t feel great physically. My mind can make me feel better and I can just do what I have to do and deliver.
I discovered what was really important was to not give up in that sense – you might feel average but you can still push through that barrier.
Who inspires me? [Cyclist] Anna Meares. I guess it all started in 2004 – she put her gold medal around my neck, her Olympic gold medal. She introduced herself and, something like that just leaves a spark in you. Then to share that moment with her at the Olympics in London – to see her journey and what she’d overcome with her injuries and how she’s the best in the world … It was really exciting to be on the same team as her at the Olympics. I knew what it meant. I knew the value of it.
• Horseracing: The Championships – Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day
Saturday, 11.30am (first race), Royal Randwick, Sydney
• NRL: Parramatta Eels v Gold Coast Titans
Saturday, 3pm, Pirtek Stadium, Parramatta
• Table Tennis: 2015 ITTF-Oceania Cup and Para Championships
Saturday and Sunday, Bendigo Stadium
• Netball: Melbourne Vixens v Queensland Firebirds
Sunday, 12.18pm, Hisense Arena, Melbourne
• AFL: Geelong Cats v Fremantle Dockers
Sunday, 1.10pm, Simonds Stadium, Geelong
• Soccer: A-League – Adelaide United v Brisbane Roar
Saturday, 5pm AEST, Coopers Stadium, Adelaide
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 11, 2015 as "Blazing paddles".
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