Pic by Balint Vekassy

It takes something a bit special to have your heart broken twice, but still bounce back and put yourself in the game again.

There’s absolutely no doubt Ireland’s Jenny Egan has that something special. Twice she has got herself within touching distance of qualifying for the Olympics, only to fall short by just one position.

Last weekend Egan proved she is as tough as nails, not only overcoming her double Olympic disappointment, but also a debilitating illness to make the A final of the K1 200, and then to defend her World Cup 5000 gold medal on Sunday afternoon.

She also nearly made the final of the K1 500. She missed by just 0.07 seconds, another near miss to add to her CV.

“Believe me, you get very upset, that hair’s-breadth you miss an A-final, or miss an Olympic qualification, yeah it’s tough,” she said.

“But you have to ask yourself ‘what can I do better so this will not happen again’”.

What you learn from speaking with 30-year-old Egan is that she’s become very good at handling adversity. It wasn’t always that way, though.

“When I just missed London it affected my 2012 season quite badly,” she said.

“The one thing I said going into 2016 is I’m going to give it my best shot, but if I don’t qualify I’m not going to let it affect the rest of my 2016 season. And I ended up having the best year of my life.

“I did new Irish sprint records and won Ireland’s first ever World Cup medal, here in Montemor. It is very tough, I’ve learned a lot about myself as an athlete over the years, and I’ve learned how to deal with those disappointments.

“You have to be really resilient and be able to pick yourself back up again. Believe me, I had a lot of tears when I didn’t qualify, but I’m very proud of myself the way I reacted and how I continued the rest of 2016 and built on this year.”

So quitting was never an option, even though many would have thrown in the towel, and no-one could have blamed Egan if it was the path she chose.

Even more so when she fell sick in February this year, with an illness that stayed around until last month. Surely then she must have considered giving it in.

“I’ve never though that,” Egan said on Sunday, proudly displaying her second World Cup gold medal. 

“I love what I do. Don’t get me wrong, there are hard days, and there are great days, and you really have to cherish the great moments. 

“I have always wanted to keep going, and I look forward to going towards Tokyo 2020.”

Making it easier for Egan is her training environment in Ireland. Boyfriend Jonathan Simmons and brother Peter Egan are her coaches, dad Tom is Irish team manager, and mum Angela is the rock upon which it is all built.

Jenny herself has been a mainstay of a sport that struggles for exposure in Ireland, but you can be certain if she manages to make it to Tokyo that will change.

Her progress at Montemor-o-Velho was followed closely in the local media, and her gold medal was greeted with widespread acclaim. She hopes she’ll soon be joined on tour by more Irish paddlers.

“I’m the only one competing at the World Cup events and it’s kind of sad in a way,” she said. 

“We have some other good paddlers, but they have chosen because they work and can’t get time off, to build on the European Champs and the World Champs.

“In Ireland canoeing and kayaking is quite a minority sport, but we have a really good club system. I train with junior boys and senior men who put resistors on their boat, so we have a great training group and we have a lot of fun.”

As it turns out, training with the men was the best possible preparation for Sunday’s 5000 final. A new race format meant the women started one minute after the men, and, sure enough, the two fields eventually merged.

It made for a new challenge for the paddlers, and no surprises it was Egan who was best equipped to meet the challenge.

Considering her race on the Friday was her first of the year, Sunday’s gold was even more remarkable. It sets her up well for ICF Canoe Sprint World Cup 2 this weekend in Szeged.

And gives her confirmation, not that she really needs it, that she has what it takes to get to Tokyo in 2020.

“It’s what I want more than anything, to be an Olympian and to compete at the highest level of our sport,” Egan said.

“So, please God, going forward, all the handwork will come together and I can perform at those qualifiers and get to Tokyo 2020 and compete there.”

ICF Canoe Sprint 2 begins in Szeged, Hungary, on Thursday.

Canoe Sprint
#ICFsprint #canoesprint