Tuesday in Tokyo was always going to be the most challenging for New Zealand powerhouse Lisa Carrington, as she embarks on an ambitious challenge to become the first athlete to win four canoe sprint medals at a single Olympics.

But by day’s end she is not only still on track, but she also is within touching distance of equalling the record for the most canoe sprint gold medals to be won at a single Olympics. She now has the women’s K1 200 and the K2 500 locked away, and has the K1 500 and K4 500 still to come.

Fellow New Zealander Ian Ferguson in 1984 became the first canoe sprint athlete to win three gold medals at a Games, a record that was equalled by Hungary’s Danuta Kozak in Rio in 2016. It is Kozak who will be the biggest obstacle for Carrington to clear in the coming days.

On Tuesday the 32-year-old had to race four times, which she has done before at a world cup or world championships. But this is the Olympics, the weather is sweltering, and the pressure is enormous.

There was also emotional pressure, as she bade farewell to her signature event from the Olympic programme. The women’s K1 200 was introduced at the 2012 London Olympics, and will not be raced in Paris in 2024. Carrington has won every single gold medal on offer.

“There’s no doubt I’m incredibly gutted that this is the last time this event will be at the Olympics,” Carrington said after her win.

“It’s given me so much, and it’s helped me in all my other events as well. It is special to be the only one, but I’m also disappointed because I was hoping there would be more people that would have the opportunity.”

Winning the K2 500 meant having to defeat the Hungarian superstar Kozak and her partner Dora Bodonyi. But in Caitlin Regal, Carrington has a partner as reliable as the day as long. With Carrington at the front of the boat, the New Zealanders were always going to be leading at the halfway stage.

Regal’s job was to make sure they stayed in front for the final 100 metres. The 29-year-old dental technician was more than up to the task, and later spoke of the special bond the two enjoy.

“I trust her so much, and I guess our whole paddling relationship is based on the trust of one another,” Regal said.

“We had a job to do and I 100 per cent trust that she is going to contribute to that, as much as I hope she believes the same. It’s a special moment to be able to sing the national anthem beside her.”

Even though the programme over the coming four days is much less demanding for Carrington, the task does not get easier. If she wants to win four gold medals, rather than just settle for four medals, she will need to upend Kozak in the K1 500, the event in which she has won gold at the past two Olympics.

That’s the first task. Next is the women’s K4 500, which the Hungarians and Kozak have also had a stranglehold on since London.

New Zealand will start with a whole new crew, with Carrington and Regal the only remaining members from the quartet that competed at world cups and world championships after Rio.

Those that doubted Carrington could achieve her goals this week are re-assessing after Tuesday’s performance. The general feeling was best summed up by Denmark’s Emma Jorgensen, who finished third behind the New Zealander in the K1 200.

“She is one of the greatest,” Jorgensen said.

“I hope that she will retire soon, so that we can be there as well, but I will keep fighting. She is one of a kind.”

The performance by Carrington overshadowed another incredible achievement on Tuesday, with Spain’s Teresa Portela, at 39 and at her sixth Olympic Games, winning her first Olympic medal.

By winning a silver medal she also became the first Spanish woman to win an Olympic canoe sprint medal.

“I have my dream, I am very happy because this is my sixth Olympic Games, and at every Olympic Games I dream of a medal,” Portela said.

“Now it’s mine. I always think I can do it, every year I train, and then do more training, because I wanted this medal.”


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