It’s getting difficult to find new superlatives for Lisa Carrington.
The queen of world kayaking added another amazing chapter to her story on Thursday, claiming her third gold medal (and career fifth) in Tokyo.
The 32-year-old took out the women’s K1 500m title at the Sea Forest Waterway, in the process becoming the greatest New Zealand Olympian of all time.
It was her toughest race of the Games so far – with Carrington pushing through an immense pain barrier in the latter stages – but she still won convincingly, clocking 1.51.216 to finish 0.639 of a second ahead of Hungary’s Tamara Csipes (1:51.855) with Rio silver medallist Emma Jorgensen almost two seconds behind the Kiwi in third (1:52.773).
Carrington now has a staggering six Olympic medals, with five gold and one bronze. That takes her beyond Ian Ferguson, who claimed four golds and one silver across the 1984 and 1988 Games. Carrington has also eclipsed the tallies of Paul MacDonald and Mark Todd (five medals).
Carrington becomes the first female to achieve the Olympic K1 200m/K1 500m double, since the sprint event was introduced in 2012.
After maintaining her game face for most of a hectic week, a jubilant Carrington was understandably emotional.
“I set out for such a big task this week [but] to be able to do it is just another thing,” Carrington told Sky Television. “I’m so proud, just amazed at what actually happened this week so far. There is so many people that support me and I am so fortunate to have an incredible support team.”
Carrington was third in 2016, behind two-time K1 500m Olympic champion Danuta Kozak and Jorgensen, but has built her capacity in the longer distance since.
“Learning from Rio, you might have the capability to be able to have great races but to actually execute and do it is another thing,” explained Carrington. “It has taken me five years to have that courage to get back out there and do something that is really scary and hurts a lot. I hate it but I love it.”
The K1 500m field was a who’s who of the sport, including the two Hungarians, Jorgensen, swift Swede Linnea Stensils and the experienced Teresa Portela (Portugal).
Conditions weren’t ideal, with a significant headwind complicating the process.
After a false start, with Kozak and Australian Alyce Wood getting a warning, Carrington regathered, managing her typical power from the start, reacting fastest at the gun. Her stroke rate topped 142 in the initial stages, as she built an early lead. She clocked 53.18 at the halfway mark – 1.01 ahead of Csipes – and needed to maintain from there.
It wasn’t easy, as the Hungarian managed a final push, while Carrington felt the rigours of her eight previous races this week.
But the Ohope paddler was never going to be beaten, glancing to the left as she crossed the line to confirm her victory with a smile. It had been a massive effort.
“The way I approach the 500 is about just emptying the tank completely,” Carrington told Sky. “It’s a completely different race and into the headwind it is a bit longer but the strategy has to stay the same for me. It hurt a lot but it just means I gave everything so [I’m] really happy.”
Carrington has more to come in Rio, with the K4 500m event. The New Zealand crew (Carrington, Caitlin Regal, Alicia Hoskin and Teneale Hatton) will race in the first heat at 10:30am local time (1:30pm NZT) on Friday.
Meanwhile, the men’s K2 1000m combination of Max Brown and Kurtis Imrie had a day to remember, finishing fifth in the A final on Thursday.
The emerging crew are focussed on Paris in 2024 but showed their accelerated development, with two more highly impressive races.
Brown and Imrie had finished 15th at the 2019 world championships but have made significant strides since then, despite no international competition.
That was shown in their semi-final performance, where they beat seasoned crews from China, Czech Republic and Italy to claim second.
It was a mighty effort from the Kiwis, who sat fourth until the 750m mark before unleashing in the final quarter, clocking 3:17.684, just 0.607 behind the highly vaunted Australian team.
Those endeavours must have taken a toll, with the final just 90 minutes later, but the Kiwis again acquitted themselves well. They were in the leading bunch for most of the race and improved their time again, recording 3:17.267, as Australia claimed gold, followed by Germany and Czech Republic.
But Imrie and Brown were just over a second off the bronze medallists, and less than 0.800 of a second behind Hungary’s best crew who finished fourth. They also topped Spain, Belarus and China.
K2 500m gold medallist Regal finished Thursday on a high, taking out the B final of the K1 500m.
The 29-year-old was disappointed to miss the elite decider, after placing a narrow third in a tough semi-final, but was quick to put it behind her with a mature performance.
The North Shore paddler was second at the halfway mark in 55.46, before upping the gears in a storming finish. Regal made up a deficit of 0.58 seconds after 250m to win by 0.238 seconds, stopping the clock at 1.53.681.
Earlier Regal had just missed out on the A final, after a gripping semi-final battle. She had drawn an unfavourable lane for the conditions (six), but started well, only 0.24 behind hot favourite Hungarian Csipes (the eventual silver medallist) at the 250m mark.
In a gutsy effort, Regal held second for most of the race, before being overhauled by Hermien Peters in the final 100m, trailing the Belgian home by just 0.666 of a second.
Like Carrington, Regal is part of the K4 500m crew in action for the first time on Friday.