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Sunday, 21 August 2016
Photos Courtesy of Marty Melville / www.Photosport.nz
Article thanks to Jamie Troughton / Dscribe Media.
The crew capped New Zealand's best Olympic canoe sprint performance in 28 years with a fifth-placing in the K4 500m final in Rio overnight, finishing behind European powerhouses Hungary, Germany, Belarus and Ukraine.
Carrington's K1 200m gold and K1 500m bronze were the shining lights of the campaign but the performance of Jaimee Lovett, Kayla Imrie, Aimee Fisher and Caitlin Ryan - after just 18 months together under coach Rene Olsen and making their Olympic debut - was something to savour.
“We’re so proud - who would have thought that we would be here 18 months ago?" Ryan said. "It’s overwhelming right now but we’re all really happy. Obviously the middle is not there at the moment, but it’s about the process, and it’s about how we executed, and we can all sit here and say we put it all on the line today and that’s what we got out of it."
All four paddlers pointed to Carrington - the first New Zealand woman to win two medals at the same games and now a double Olympic champion - as their inspiration but they're also hoping their own achievements in Rio will provide a lift for the next generation in New Zealand.
“Lisa Carrington has done so much to inspire us, and now maybe we can inspire some other girls back home," Fisher said.
Not since Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald's three-medal haul in 1988 has an Olympic campaign delivered so much and Ryan was well aware of the potential impact they could have on the sport in New Zealand.
“This wasn't just about racing for ourselves but all those kids back there who want it just as much as us, and to show these kids that they can do it,” Ryan said. "It’s so important, and making everyone back home proud, and I think we really did that. I think we showed that we wanted it, and yeah, the result wasn’t there, but we’re pushing these people. It just shows – aim high, who knows."
Canoe Racing New Zealand boss Mark Weatherall was delighted with the team's performance, easily surpassing CRNZ's pre-Olympic goals.
"It's been a massive campaign stretching back four years, in Lisa's case, but this hopefully sets the sport up for another golden era like we had in the 1980s," Weatherall said.
He nominated Carrington's coach Gordon Walker, national women's coach Rene Olsen and team manager Grant Restall as key figures, while the support behind the scenes from High Performance Sport New Zealand has also been crucial.
And while the women's programme is deservedly getting the headlines, Weatherall believes the men's programme may also be on the verge of similar success after Marty McDowell also made his Olympic debut in the K1 1000m.
"Earlier this year, we appointed a national men's coach - Frederick Loyer - and we're already seeing the results of the leadership and vision he's brought to that role. Just as importantly, the men can now look over to the women's K4 and see the progress they've made in just 18 months, purely through team-work and focus. It's a great lesson for everyone."
That's also what Ryan and her crew will take from the experience - with ages ranging from 21-year-old Fisher to 28-year-old Lovett, Tokyo 2020 is a very realistic goal if they want to chase it. “We’ve been through some big highs, some big troughs, but these girls have been my life for the last 18 months,” Ryan said. “We’ve sacrificed a lot together, we’ve had tears, we’ve had joy, we’ve had success, we’ve had the down times, but I think at the end of the day, we’ve got each other’s back."
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