Olympians Return to the Whitewater

Olympic canoe slalom paddlers Jessica Fox and Lucien Delfour are amongst the first small group of national team paddlers who have returned to the water at Penrith Whitewater Stadium after the NSW State Government eased restrictions mid-May.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games venue is home of the National Centre of Excellence for Paddle Australia’s Olympic canoe slalom paddlers and the first whitewater sessions for national team paddlers were made possible with the support of and in collaboration with Penrith Whitewater Stadium.

Olympic dual medallist and greatest individual slalom paddler of all time Jessica Fox was appreciative about the quick response of Penrith Whitewater Stadium and thrilled to get back on her home water at the world-class facility after two months of training at home.

“I was stoked and it was great to be back on the whitewater. It was pure joy despite the cold and wind,” Fox laughed and hinting at the challenge of not having spent an Australian winter at home since she was a child. But being back in her element was all that mattered.

Jessica Fox – Photo JGRImages

“It’s something that I probably took for granted. I’m sure a lot of us have had that feeling when our day to day activities have had to change due to Covid but I just feel so grateful to be back on the water and looking forward to getting back to work,” Fox reflected on the last couple of months.

“I think it’s been eight weeks and definitely the longest time I’ve had off the water since I was probably 12 years old. I could definitely feel that it had been a while but hopefully the feeling comes back quickly.”

During the time in lock-down, Fox stayed fit training at home and adapting to the circumstances.

“My training has been modified with home gym workouts and our team gym and NSWIS lent me some equipment so that I could do a great workout at home. A lot of core work and elastics.

“I have also done flatwater sprint boat paddling on the Nepean river and some flatwater gates in the canoe. There’s been more variety which has been nice and I feel like I’ve made the most of the situation and focussed on the things I could do with what I had. But I definitely missed the element of fun and play that I got a lot from the whitewater and missed training with and seeing teammates,” Fox said.

It will be the first Australian winter at home for most of the team, who usually contest the ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup season in Europe around this time of year and having a world-class course on their door steps will be essential to get the necessary whitewater training in.

Penrith Whitewater Stadium Aerial View

“We feel very fortunate to have this venue at home and to have a world class course we will be able to train on. It is so important and I think it will still be a challenge and a disadvantage for us to not travel this year as our sport does require variety and adaptation on different courses but if the whitewater stadium stays open over winter (usually it closes) then it will be great to have access to whitewater during that period,” Fox said.

“For now the expectation is to ease back into whitewater with a couple of sessions a week, we are uncertain of what it will look like long term but we are just taking it week by week and hopefully will be increasing the number of sessions.”

Olympian Lucien Delfour, who like Fox has been selected on the Australian Olympic Team for Tokyo 2020, was also excited to be able to enjoy some whitewater action on his home-course.

“Whitewater is what we do, so it’s great to have it back in our training,” Delfour said.

“The first session was quite tough. The body isn’t used to moving on whitewater anymore, everything feels a bit slow and heavy, and in the first few sessions it is like learning how to paddle whitewater again. It’s great to be in touch with whitewater and the feeling again though, and long term it will be about skill maintenance and development,” Delfour added.

Lucien Delfour - Aus Open 2020 - Photo JGR Images

Lucien Delfour – Photo JGR Images

Like his team mate Fox, Delfour is thankful for the opportunity of being able to train at Penrith Whitewater Stadium, even though he is also missing the European summer.

“We have one of the best courses in the world. The only downside is that it will be winter, and it is morning sessions only. The issue with cold, other than the obvious ‘discomfort’, to put it mildly, is the lack, or loss of feeling, which makes skill acquisition very slow,” Delfour described the challenges ahead.

Delfour took a couple of weeks off after the postponement of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games to next year was announced, but made the most of the training opportunities still available during lock-down.

“I had two weeks off after the postponement of the Olympic Games was announced, and slowly went back to training with a few flat-water sessions every week, then gradually increased the intensity with some fitness training in my garage. I have been doing some good flat-water sessions over the last six weeks and focused a lot more on the gym,” Delfour said about his lock-down routine.

Fellow Tokyo 2020 canoe slalom team mate Daniel Watkins will still be training at home in Tasmania while state borders are closed and is making the most of the natural whitewater opportunities there.

While Paddle Australia’s canoe slalom paddlers were enjoying their return to the whitewater, Australia’s Olympic and Paralympic canoe sprint paddlers, who are based on the Gold Coast, have been able to do individual flat-water training over the last few weeks with a more structured training expected to recommence in July.

To allow a gradual return to training, Paddle Australia’s High Performance program has put strict protocols and requirements for all staff and athletes across both canoe slalom and canoe sprint into place ahead of the programs returning to training.

Based on Government recommendations, it is a phased approach with a safe return to training and a safe training environment the main priority.

“We have been working very closely with the Australian Institute of Sport, our training facility partners and closely monitoring state government guidelines for the gradual return of our athletes to training and being able to get back on the whitewater a couple of times last week is a very important step. We are thankful for the support of the Penrith Whitewater Stadium and are looking forward to continue working together with them,” Paddle Australia National Performance Director Shaun Stephens said.

“We are very proud of our athletes, coaches and support staff who have made the best of a very challenging situation over the last few weeks and we’ve seen some great resourcefulness and creativity with all of our paddlers continuing their training regime.

But we will also not rush the next phase of training with the safety of our paddlers, staff and the community as a whole being paramount.  I’m really proud to see our athletes be leaders within the paddling community in promoting safe paddling and active lifestyles through this very difficult period.  If we continue to work together, we can get back to training sooner and be confident that we are doing so in a safe environment,” Stephens added.

The slow and phased approach is fully supported by the team with also Fox stressing the importance of everyone playing their part.

“I think it’s important that we don’t rush it and that we do the right things and follow all the guidelines and physical distancing requirements. It’s important to stay healthy and at the sign of any symptoms or contact with others with symptoms that we stay home.

“Hopefully we can get through winter and resume some normal activities and get back to doing what we love in the community. I’ve been really happy to see so many people exercising outdoors; I had never seen that many people in my area,” Fox added about the positives of the last two months.

With the gradual re-opening of training facilities around the country, the message of physical distancing and following the government COVID-19 guidelines remains clear with Paddle Australia’s athlete commission also continuing to promote the download of the COVID-19 safe app.

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