K1 final makes history as New Zealand and Australia take podium positions

New Zealand has won its first ever Olympic canoe slalom medal, and Oceania has filled two out of the three podium places in an historic day of racing in the K1 women’s final in Rio.

27-year-old Luuka Jones, competing in her third Olympics, finished second and Australian 20-year-old Jessica Fox thirdbehind Spain’s MaialenChourraut in an action-packed final.

“To be on the podium today with Jess, I mean she is an incredible athlete,” Jones said.

“It is a European-dominated sport, and that’s why we have to travel so much. So to have two women from Oceania on the podium is just incredible.”

Both Jones and Fox initially posted clean runs in the challenging windy conditions, with Fox posting a faster time than her New Zealand neightbour.

But both athletes then attracted an asterisk, denoting judges were checking possible gate touches, and while Jones was cleared, Fox had a two-second penalty added for a touch on gate 22.

“It was stressful having the asterisk come up, and for a moment I thought maybe I might end up fourth or fifth,” Jones said.

“I had no idea, I was just trying to pass the time.”

While Jones was riding high, Fox, the London silver medallist, was gutted.

“My heart sank because I didn’t know if that would be good enough for a podium, so I played the waiting game again for the second time,” she said.

“It’s happened to me before, where I have won a race, and then the asterisk went up and I’ve finished eighth or ninth, or not in the medals. I just didn’t want that to happen again.

“I took risks today, and they didn’t all pay off. But to be on the podium a second time is great, because not that many women have been able to back up a medal at the Olympics.”

For Jones, a decision to go ahead with a windy training session in the lead-up to the Games paid dividends.

“I actually don’t like the wind,” she said.

“The other week we did a session on a really windy day, and I kind of got a bit annoyed about it. But I rode it out on the occasion that it might be windy, so I was happy I did that.

“It has made a huge difference being to two (Olympics), I felt really calm in the environment. It’s a really special unique environment at the Olympics, and having been a part of it before I felt like I could just do my own thing.”

It was just after 4am in New Zealand when Jones posted her withering semi-final run, but a slight more reasonable time when she created slalom history.

She suspects most of New Zealand would have been watching, and is hopeful the result will kick off a new love affair with the sport.

“They would have been up,” Jones said.

“My sister sent me through a picture of my mum in her dressing gown looking stressed!

“We’ve got an awesome group of young paddlers coming through, and hopefully our sport can get some support and grow the organisation.”

Despite dropping back one podium place in Rio, Fox is also excited about what the future might hold.

And she’s also happy it was her close friend and training partner, Chourraut, who took the gold.

“It’s been an amazing four years for me,” he said.

“I’ve grown so much as an athlete, and I think I’ve had a fantastic year leading into this and another Olympic medal is a great result.

“Maialen was incredible, she’s one of my paddling idols and I’m just so happy to be on the podium beside her. And I’m thrilled for Luuka Jones. Team Oceania.”

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