Maialen Chourraut is in the middle of a game of hide-and-seek with her daughter when I rudely interrupt to talk about her incredible paddling career.

We are standing at the back of London’s Lee Valley canoe slalom course, the venue where the Spaniard won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, and where this week she will kickstart her sixth Games qualifying campaign.

Chourraut has added a gold medal from Rio and a silver from Tokyo since her first podium in London. Importantly, despite having reached the top, she still has the passion.

“I love training, and I know that I have a lot of things I can improve in,” she said.

“I’m older and older, and sometimes for me it is very difficult to be there training, and to improve something, but I try and try. The day that I get that is very special, that gives me a lot. And now when I decide to stop, this life will finish for ever for me.

“I see that I can continue, that I love what I do, I think that I can give something more. I’m 40 years old and I’m still fighting with the top girls, so I’m happy. This is special for me.”

 Chourraut had only just turned 20 when she tried to qualify for her first Olympics as a canoe slalom athlete. The occasion got the better of her, Spain missed the quota, and Chourraut had to watch the Athens Olympics on television.

“I felt then that I was too young, and when we didn’t get the quota I thought that was quite normal, I’m young and I have a lot of work to do,” Chourraut said.

“The Olympic journey is very special. The first time I was there it was a dream, then the dream was to one day be an Olympic champion, and in Rio it happened. And now the dream again is to be again at the Olympics. For me to get to Paris would be a very special Olympic Games.”

In between winning Olympic medals and inspiring a nation, Chourraut also found time to become a mother. Daughter Ane is now 10, and spends her summers charging alongside slalom courses cheering her mum on.

For any parent competing as an elite athlete, there are challenges, and it’s been no different for Chourraut. But she’s proud of the role she’s played, and is also determined to make things easier for all athletes who also have young families.

“I know that it is important for women to be able to demonstrate that we can be an athlete and also a mother. We don’t have to stop our career if we want to be a mother or a father,” she said.

“But I think there are still a lot of things we can do for that. We need more help, we need to be able to accommodate more. It’s special, everything you want to do better and to improve, it’s hard. Be a dream mum, or a dream father, all the ways are not easy, but I think this big challenge, to be a mum and to keep paddling, we have to fight, to make it easier, with more facilities.”

If Spain is successful this week in earning a women’s K1 quota for Paris, and then Chourraut manages to earn the start, she will join just a handful of slalom athletes who have competed at five Olympic Games.

Only one athlete has contested slalom at six Olympics – Czech Stepanka Hilgertova. That’s still a long way off for Maialen Chourraut, but if she’s still enjoying paddling as much as she is today, who would be brave enough to rule her out of LA in 2028?

“I am very proud, when I think of what I have done in the past 15 years, I am very proud of that,” she said.

“The best thing is I am happy that I did everything, because I love paddling, I love being a mum, I love family life, and I love this sport.”

The 2023 International Canoe Federation Canoe Slalom World Championships kick off on Tuesday and run through until Sunday.

Spain Maialen Chourraut silver medal Tokyo Olympics

Canoe Slalom