It’s an age-old debate, does nature or nurture best determine a person’s personality and path? Perhaps there’s a clue in Myriam Fox’s story.
Myriam and Richard Fox are both former Olympic athletes and parents to the most successful Canoe Slalom paddler of all-time, Jess Fox, and world championship gold medallist, Noemie Fox. Seems clear-cut, genetics and nature for the win, right?
Not so fast, because that would greatly under-sell Myriam Fox’s decorated coaching credentials. Indeed, Myriam has nurtured generations of paddlers from pathways to Olympic podiums over more than two decades as a coach with Paddle Australia. Just last year, Myriam was awarded the IOC Coaches Lifetime Achievement Award for her broad contribution to the sport in Australia and globally.
Yes, she’s mum to two elite athletes, but Myriam Fox is also their coach, senior coach to the national women’s Canoe Slalom program, and a global ambassador for the growth of her sport.
“I was a senior coach before [Jess and Noemie] came into the picture [as high performance athletes], so they’re used to it and I think I switch easily with the cap of the mum or the coach,” French-born Myriam says.
“In the past I’ve really been working vertically, so taking many girls, young girls from before the juniors, and then following them in juniors, Under 23’s and into the senior team and, of course, Olympic team. Now that we have more coaches in the pathway, I am mainly the senior coach.”
Myriam Fox was a phenomenal athlete for France, claiming 10 medals at ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships and competing at two Olympic Games, with bronze in Atlanta 1996.
Her results and dedication as a coach for Australia have been incredible too. While her role now focuses on the Australian Women’s Senior Canoe Slalom program, she’s passionate about expanding the sport at all levels.
In particular, Myriam has been a crusader for greater gender equity in paddle and was one of the key protagonists behind the introduction of Women’s C1 into the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020. Fittingly, the inaugural Olympic title was won by her daughter and athlete Jess.
Jess Fox’s success has undoubtedly raised the profile of Canoe Slalom in Australia, but Myriam Fox is confident the sport can also capitalise on participation growth as Australia prepares to host the 2025 World Championships in Sydney and the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
She says pathways coaching and more accessibility to the sport – including a second international standard venue in Brisbane, adding to the venue in Penrith– can be critical over the coming decade.
“I think it’s fantastic that we have pathways coaches, especially when they base themselves here [in Penrith], because it’s the only real international site, so they know we could actually do a lot of work with [the pathways athletes] technically and physically. They can also train with the senior athletes and world champions and Olympic champions. So, for them, it should be very special.
“With another venue, hopefully ahead of ’32 in Brisbane, it’s going to be fantastic to have those two sites for the community. So hopefully the pathways will grow, there will be more athletes and we could fill up in all the [competitive] classes.”
“What we probably want more of is more people doing [the sport], to have even stronger momentum. And out of the more people, maybe we will have more athletes reaching the highest level.”
This year will be incredibly important in readiness for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Early quota spots will be up for grabs at the World Championships, enabling teams to have a longer and smoother preparation.
Always the nurturer as a coach, Myriam is focusing with her athletes on continual improvement.
“The technique evolves and when we have an athlete, especially like Jess, who has been on top and number one for so many years, we need to be ahead of the game – focusing on supporting our athletes both as paddlers and as people. I say ‘we’ because I involve a lot of our athletes in the way we train, we think and we plan. We need to really think outside the box and improve because there are always those who want to overtake us.
“There’s a lot of potential in the Canoe Slalom team and I was lucky to have [overseen] medals and bring medals at each Olympics. So every year, every four years, we’re having a good team, and I believe it will be the same for 2024.”