Fox confident funding boost will guarantee Olympic legacy

Courtesy of Planet Canoe

It is a story which has reached legendary status in this part of the world.

How, in 2000, a wide-eyed six-year-old Jessica Fox sat on the hill at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium watching the world’s best canoe slalom athletes competing at an Olympic Games virtually in her backyard.

These days, as an Olympic gold medalist in her own right, Fox admits she doesn’t remember a lot about what she saw 23 years ago. To be fair, she was just six.

What she does remember more clearly is five years later, once again watching the world’s best paddlers in Penrith, this time at an ICF World Championships. It was this event, more than the Olympics five years earlier, that convinced her canoe slalom was a sport she wanted to try.

And it was the performance of Robin Bell that clinched it for the 11-year-old. All Australians owe Bell, who on that day beat Olympic gold medalists Tony Estanguet and Michal Martikan to take gold in the men’s C1, an enormous debt of gratitude.

“That was the moment I wanted to take up the sport and wanted to have a go,” Fox said this week.

“I had a broken arm at the time, from gymnastics, and I remember being a helper and a cheer squad member, running down the bank and cheering on Robin Bell and the other Aussies. Obviously Robin won gold, it was pretty special to be there and to witness it.

“That’s what kick started my paddling career. Robin Bell was an athlete who really led the way in Australian paddle sports. His performance in Beijing, I remember being 14 and watching that.”

The story of Jessica Fox and her conversion from gym-mat junkie to canoe slalom supremo is the Australian version of a tale which has played out in cities around the world, one of many legacies which flow on from the hosting of an Olympic Games.

Just one of the canoe slalom venues which have been used at an Olympic Games is no longer in use. At all others, from Munich in 1972 through to Tokyo in 2020, there are stories like Fox’s – young athletes inspired by what they saw, and then given the opportunity to learn their trade on a world-class facility.

“When you look at some of those original whitewater courses – Augsburg 50 years on, we had the world championships there last year and it was something really phenomenal, something really special to get back to the roots of the sport,” Fox said.

“We have La Seu from the ’92 Olympics, we have the London World Championships this year, back on that 2012 course. The Olympic venues are an important part of our sport and a big legacy piece, where we go back for frequent training and world cup and world championship racing.”

In 2025 the world’s best canoe slalom athletes will once again return to Penrith for a world championships, celebrating 25 years since the Olympics, and 20 years since the titles that ignited the career of one of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen.

This week the government of New South Wales, where Penrith is located, announced a $3.1 million boost for the whitewater stadium. It will allow the venue a much needed touch-up before the world titles.

At the announcement much was spoken about the legacy venues like Penrith can provide. The key word was “community”. It’s an area Paddle Australia, the Penrith Council and the NSW Government will put more focus on into the future.

It’s one of the lessons that have been learned, and a key message to be passed on to Redlands in Queensland, the region earmarked to potentially host a new whitewater stadium for the Brisbane Olympics in 2032.

Jessica Fox believes it has the potential to transform the community.

“This venue is obviously part of that Olympic legacy,” Fox said.

“It’s very important to keep it part of the sport, and also part of the community, making it more accessible to more people. It will be so exciting for the Redlands community to have the Olympics to their backyard.

“Everyone focuses on the Olympics and those two weeks, but it has a lasting impact. When you see the impact of the Sydney Olympics, and the athletes who have come from watching those Games from the stands to now competing, but also the way it becomes a community venue and a way for the whole area to enjoy past those two Olympics.”

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