Jessica Fox was so nervous before her final race in the women’s canoe on Thursday that she was physically ill, such was the pressure she was under to perform.

Just minutes before she set off on her path to gold she ate a small sweet, and immediately vomited. As if she didn’t know already, it was a good sign how much that race meant to her.

“I’ve probably never been as nervous as I was today,” Fox said later.

“Twenty minutes before my race, even though I felt good, and felt calm, I had a small lolly and I instantly went and threw up. That has never happened to me before, and I think it showed how full-on it was today.”

To fully understand how 27-year-old Jessica Fox got herself into a situation where she was so nervous she could barely talk requires a look back at her journey to get to Thursday’s historic women’s canoe final.

Firstly, it was the disappointment of not winning gold in the women’s kayak on Tuesday. As a teenager in London in 2012 she had shocked even herself by winning a surprise silver medal. Four years later in Rio, where people were expecting her to win gold, she had to settle for bronze.

I’ve probably never been as nervous as I was today

Since Rio no athlete has worked harder to become faster and stronger. In her home country everyone expected her to win two gold medals in Tokyo, and the media coverage reflected this confidence.

So when she got herself into trouble during Tuesday’s kayak final, robbing herself of a certain title, the pressure to perform on Thursday became almost unbearable. There were a lot of tears, and by the time she got to the qualifiers for the canoe the next day she was physically and emotionally drained.

“It was very tough,” Fox said.

“I think I re-lived my kayak race a million times in my head, and each time it was that last upstream gate, and how I could have done it differently and avoided the penalty.

“It was very taxing, I had to do a lot of mental work over the past 48 hours, and I think it just shows that I have done the work over the past five years to get to this moment, so I’m really proud of that.”

Australia Jessica Fox C1 Tokyo Olympics

Also weighing heavily on Jessica Fox’s mind was the amount of emotional energy she had given to the campaign to have women’s canoe added to the Olympic programme. Although it was a success, the whole process had taken a heavy toll on the young paddler.

To put it bluntly, she had a lot of skin in the game on Thursday. Many had told her over the years that women’s canoe was not strong enough to be included in the Olympics, that not enough women would do it, and that it was too physically demanding for women.

Those same critics may find the following hard to read; Jess Fox’s winning time on Thursday would have placed her sixth in the men’s canoe final. Second place getter Mallory Franklin would also have finished top ten.

“I’m so proud to be here today in the women’s C1 category, and I’m so proud of all the women who have raced here and been part of this moment,” Fox said.

“I am so grateful to all the women, all the coaches, all the people who lobbied for gender equality in our sport, and to have us here in this moment.

I’ve definitely felt that load and that pressure

“I had a moment in the warm-up pool before the final, I heard the times that the girls were putting down, and I just thought ‘this is what I wanted’. I wanted a great final, I wanted hot racing, and this is what we had.

“We actually had more competitors in the women because athletes could double up, so it was quite special to be part of that.”

And that leads us to where Fox found herself on Thursday. Many in the canoeing world were questioning if the Australian could bounce back after the disappointment of Tuesday. Some were even predicting she might not win a medal, in an event where she has been world champion on four occasions.

But the three-time Olympian answered not just those naysayers, but also any doubts she had about her own mental toughness. By her own doing, she had given herself the biggest challenge of her illustrious career and passed with flying colours.

It’s not surprising that Fox has a lot of respect for the American gymnast, Simone Biles, who pulled out of her Olympic competition this week citing the enormous mental strain she was under.

“It’s very powerful of Simone to be doing this,” Fox said.

“I haven’t really been reading the news or been watching the Australian television coverage because of all the build-up around my competition. I haven’t really been on social media because of that as well, and I think each athlete has to manage that as they can.

“I’ve definitely felt that load and that pressure, and there was a lot of relief at the finish line today.”

Pics by Bence Vekassy

Australia Jessica Fox C1 Tokyo Olympics

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