Ottilie Robinson-Shaw lives in a small, smelly cold caravan on the banks of the Trent River in Nottingham. She left school at 16, but is now a qualified surveyor. But that career is on hold, as she throws everything at her canoe freestyle career.

During lockdown she had a right miserable time training in the ocean because she couldn’t get access to the National Water Centre where she usually trained. Her father would traipse to the ocean with his deckchair to proudly watch his daughter, and then help her empty the sand from her boat.

This has been the life, and is the life, of one of the most exciting paddlers to arrive on the canoe freestyle scene for many years. Watching her on the water in Nottingham this week, you had to remind yourself she was just 20-years-old.

As the tears flowed freely on Saturday night Ottilie Robinson-Shaw tried to put into words the emotions she had been wrestling with all week.

Planet Canoe interview the British 20-year-old on three occasions, and on each she admitted to feeling differently. On day one, after smashing an ICF record on her way to becoming the squirt boat world champion, she claimed to be feeling no nerves and no pressure, and was just out to enjoy herself.

The next interview came after she created history by becoming the first ever women’s freestyle canoe champion. This time she admitted she had struggled with nerves, couldn’t sleep and was struggling to eat. Was the pressure getting to her?

Hardly. Saturday came, and Ottilie Robinson-Shaw could not have been more relaxed. She went walking with her boyfriend and fellow freestyle finalist, Harry Price, their dog, and a group of school friends who had made the journey to Nottingham to support her.

I don’t live in a small, smelly cold van for nothing

She had a good lunch, which she claimed she never usually could do before an event. And then she went onto the water, decimated the previous ICF world championship record score for a single ride, and waltzed her way to a third gold medal for the week.

No-one has ever won three senior gold medals at a single world championships. And according to seasoned onlookers, no-one has ever dominated a competition to the level Robinson-Shaw did.

After looking in control all week, confirmation of her final gold medal was a signal to open the emotional floodgates.

 “I’ve been holding it in all week, my big goal was to win all three and now that has happened it’s all coming out now,” Robinson-Shaw said.

“I’ve had my heart set on this, I’ve lived for this for the last few years. I don’t live in a small, smelly cold van for nothing, it’s to be here and be the best.

“I feel so loved. I had my family, my friends, my schoolfriends, my dog – everyone that I could possibly dream of. I feel so loved and supported and so grateful to live this life, because without those people I wouldn’t be here today.”

The question many are now asking is how do the rest of the field bridge that enormous gap the 20-year-old Robinson-Shaw opened up in Nottingham? One thing appears certain – she has no intention of resting on her achievements.

I got on the water because I loved kayaking

“This is our Olympics,” she said.

“I’m going to keep enjoying kayaking, as long as I’m enjoying kayaking, I’m having fun and winning really, aren’t I.

“Gold medals are great, but the reason I’m here is that when I was a kid I loved being on the water, and I didn’t get on the water to win gold, I got on the water because I loved kayaking.”

Her other goal is to get more girls and women into freestyle kayaking. She paid tribute to her fellow paddlers who worked so hard to get women’s canoe into the world championships. She hopes this week has been a good advertisement for the sport.

And while living in a cold, small and smelly caravan, paddling in freezing cold water and emptying beach sand out of your boat might not on the surface sound that appealing, it’s a lifestyle those that have gone down this path will tell you is second to none.

“At school you do netball, you do hockey, you do football, but you often don’t kayak, you don’t sail, you don’t rock climb,” Robinson-Shaw said.

“I think those sports, its not about winning, its not about making money, it’s the lifestyle. And it brings so many people happiness and freedom from day-to-day life, and that’s important.”

Great Britain Ottilie Robinson-Shaw freestyle 2022

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