There once was a time when the wilder the water, and the more challenging the occasion, the more likely it was you would find Martina Wegman and a kayak.

Wegman has paddled some of the world’s most beautiful, and most difficult, waterways in the world. It was a time of her life she remembers fondly. But it is also a time of her life she expects is now mostly behind her.

“I’m really happy with my background, I’m looking back with so many good memories of this, but I think as I get older, the risk of the river, I definitely don’t have the same confidence as I had before,” Wegman reflects now.

“But I enjoy the slalom, and while I would like to go on some trips, I feel like I will not go back to my past anymore. But I have so many good memories.”

Making her Olympic debut in Tokyo was a game changer for the Dutch slalom paddler. At the age of 31 it was a major career breakthrough. Now she’s on the cusp of getting to a second Olympics.

It’s forced a change of mindset for a paddler who once found slalom paddlers, shall we put it diplomatically, annoying.

“I was doing a lot of freestyle kayaking, and we were sometimes on the slalom course for the freestyle features, and we would be so annoyed with these slalom paddlers going by all the time, and we were not understanding why they were doing this,” Wegman told the Path to Paris Podcast.

“We didn’t like them.

“Now I’m a slalom paddler myself. I like the challenge, and it’s safer because on the river there are more risks.”

For me it was really cool, because it was my first Olympics

Making her Games debut in Tokyo was a bewildering experience for Wegman. She had grown up watching the Olympics, seeing the massive crowds cheering from the grandstands. Of course Tokyo had none of that.

But it didn’t diminish the experience for Wegman.

“For me it was really cool, because it was my first Olympics, so I guess just being there was really fantastic,” she said.

“It was a good thing maybe that this was my first Olympics, because speaking to some of the other athletes and they talk about the shock and excitement of the crowds, so for them this was not as exciting as the previous Games they have been to.

“But because this was my first one, there was already enough excitement to make it to the Games. And I was lucky because I had Mike (Dawson) there on the bank. So at least I had some support I guess. For me it was more about the race itself.”

The Dawson of which she speaks is her partner Mike Dawson, himself a two-time Olympian who is also more at home on some of nature’s most challenging waterways. It was Dawson who introduced Wegman to slalom, and the pair divide their time between New Zealand and Europe.

Wegman found herself stuck in New Zealand during Covid, which she concedes was hardly a hardship. And then the one-year delay to the Olympics worked in her favour.

“Luckily during Covid, it gave me an extra year to prepare for Tokyo and to build up strength in the gym,” she said.

“For me it was really good that I had an extra year to prepare.”

It’s cool that we have another chance for a medal race

Slalom is traditionally not a big sport in The Netherlands. Wegman was only the second female Dutch paddler to compete at an Olympics, and in Paris will become the first woman to compete at two Games for The Netherlands.

It’s resulted in an uptick in support for slalom paddling in her home country.

“We’re very lucky now that we are with the Water Sport Federation, so the sailing programme is taking care of us, so we can use the strength and conditioning and the physio,” Wegman said.

“The sailing is a massive programme in The Netherlands. I live in the north of The Netherlands, so I have nowhere really to train, just on the waves of the ocean. Nothing for slalom, just flatwater. I don’t have any gates there. The closest course is probably Paris.

“I rolled into running rivers. Living near the ocean, I would paddle on the waves. My dad was a kayaker, so on holidays we would always have the kayak there, and we slowly picked it up. Year by year I had the opportunity to paddle rivers, and then I really got into it.”

Wegman was also one of the first paddlers to embrace Kayak Cross. With her wildwater background it seemed a natural fit, and she tasted early success.

I really enjoy it so I might change my mind. I can’t give a straight answer yet

Kayak Cross will make its Olympic debut in Paris, and Wegman is looking forward to showing a global audience what all the excitement is about. She still prefers Canoe Slalom, but is curious what the fans will think of this new contact form of paddling.

“It’s something different,” she told the Path to Paris podcast.

“I prefer slalom because it’s more elegant for me, but I guess it’s cool that we have another chance for a medal race.

“We’re still developing so much, I wouldn’t say I’m very good because my world ranking has dropped quite a lot and a lot of other girls have spent more time on it and they are getting really good.”

Post-Paris, Wegman is going to be faced with a very difficult decision.

“It’s a tough one, because with my age I would say Paris will be my last one, but with my heart I would really like to continue because I enjoy it,” she said.

“But I definitely would like to start a family as well, and I don’t know if it will be possible for me or if I have the willing to combine the two.

“Before I said probably no, but I really enjoy it so I might change my mind. I can’t give a straight answer yet.”

You can hear the full interview with Martina Wegman on the Path to Paris podcast.

2018 ICF Canoe Extreme Slalom World Championships Rio Brazil Ana Satila BRA - Martina Wegman NED


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