For a fleeting moment after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Lisa Carrington contemplated putting the paddle in the rack, hiding the kayak at the back of the garage, and moving on to the next chapter in her life.

“I hadn’t really made a decision as such. I think I had thought that it would definitely be okay if I didn’t continue,” Carrington said this week.

It was only a fleeting moment. And as it turns out (and are we really surprised) the 32-year-old New Zealander is perfectly capable of combining the next chapter of her life with what has already been a breathtaking paddling career.

The five-time Olympic champion did put her paddle in the rack for a little while, long enough to get married, become a Dame (more about that later *) and add yet more awards to her already glittering career.

As the record now stands, Carrington is a veteran of three Olympic Games. She’s also already the most successful individual canoe sprint athlete in Olympic history, with four K1 gold medals.

it would definitely be okay if I didn’t continue

The K2 gold she won with Caitlin Regal in Tokyo took her to five gold medals overall, one behind her long-time rival, Hungarian Danuta Kozak. German legend Birgit Fischer leads the pack with eight gold medals.

The demise of the women’s K1 200 at the Olympics was a tough pill to swallow for Carrington, a race in which she has been unbeaten at an international level since 2011, including three times at the Games. That alone could have been a good enough reason to walk away after Tokyo.

But when the dust settled, and it came time to decide whether to put the ball gown away for another year or put the training togs into mothballs, she chose the former. Athletes know when their time has arrived, and Carrington firmly believed her bell was yet to toll.

“I think there’s so much more I can do,” she said.

“I want to get better. And I really enjoy it, especially with our team, and with growing the sport in New Zealand and our high performance culture.

“So there’s lot more that I think I can learn and do, so I’m excited for it.”

The fact Carrington was back racing in Racice this week underlines her resilience. While Covid had a devastating impact on communities around the world, it also made athletes like Carrington a prisoner in their own country.

It probably explains why, with borders finally reopening, countries like New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong have been so strongly represented in the Czech Republic. To put it bluntly, they’ve been starved of competition.

“Amazing to think that three years ago we were racing in Europe, so it is so good to be back, the quality of racing here,” Carrington said.

“We qualified in 2019 for the Olympics, which happened in 2021, and to come out the other side, 2022, it’s so cool to see so many countries and athletes racing here.”

I’m in a privileged position to still be performing

The other development since Tokyo which could have convinced Carrington to retire is the change of personnel in the New Zealand team. Caitlin Regal, her K2 gold medal partner, has retired, and two of the four K4 paddlers who narrowly missed a medal in Tokyo are not in Racice.

But Carrington sees the new-look team as an opportunity, a chance for the athlete who has single-handedly made canoe sprint one of New Zealand’s most popular sports to help guide it into the future.

After all, even Lisa Carrington will have to retire one day… For now, who better to help ensure the foundations for the future are solid.

“I think what’s awesome is we have a great opportunity to be able to do that,” she said.

“I think I’m in a privileged position to still be performing at my age and for as long as I have been. So it kind of means these young girls, we train together but I can also help them and support them to be better paddlers.

“It’s absolutely awesome that I’m able to do that, we had a really good regatta in the K4, it’s basically an U23 crew plus me, so it’s a lot of fun. The rate that the girls are improving is incredible, so that makes me super happy.”

*Dame is an honour given to a member of the Commonwealth by the Queen of England to recognise their outstanding contribution to society. After winning almost half of New Zealand’s gold medal tally in Tokyo, making Lisa Carrington a Dame seemed the least they could do!

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