Aimee Fisher struggled to watch the kayak sprint competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

Two years earlier, competing at the 2019 ICF World Championships, she had seemed destined to be there herself, certainly as part of the women’s K4, but also highly likely as a K1 paddler alongside Olympic powerhouse, Lisa Carrington.

But following a series of changes within the New Zealand women’s team, Fisher took the decision to step away from the squad – knowing full well her Tokyo dream was over.

She has often said she has no regrets over the stand she took. She reminded the world how good she is by competing at the 2021 ICF World Championships in Copenhagen just weeks after the Olympics, storming to a K1 500 world title.

In the same year that Fisher seemed to have the Olympic world at her feet, 2019, fellow New Zealander Danielle McKenzie was riding the crest of a wave, reigning supreme as the women’s ICF Ocean Racing world champion. Those in the know were predicting McKenzie could dominate the sport for several years.

But McKenzie wasn’t feeling fulfilled. She wanted a shot at Olympic glory. And she didn’t need to look far to find a willing ally.

In February Danielle McKenzie and Aimee Fisher teamed up to earn New Zealand a women’s K2 500 quota for this year’s Paris Olympics. They had hoped to do it at last year’s world championships in Duisburg, but it didn’t go to plan on the day.

At Penrith at the Oceania Championships they both paddled like people who had made too many sacrifices to let a chance go begging. Which they had.

McKenzie had decided to change sports, and to move countries.

“It was a massive call,” McKenzie said.

“We shifted our whole life back from the Gold Coast to New Zealand, spent a little bit of money and s lot of time, blood, sweat and tears. I honestly just live month by month at the moment, going through the next process.

“It’s a really emotional roller coaster, and I’m stoked to be doing it with such an awesome person and a really supportive Canoe Racing New Zealand team around us.”

Fisher’s return meant rebuilding the bridges that had been burned in the lead-up to Tokyo.

“I walked away from the last Olympics, and now I get the possibility of racing in Paris,” she said.

“There’s a lot of people back home that I race for. A lot of people on my heart that I represent and get to race alongside. It’s a bit of both – intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

“There’s been a lot of work done. We know we had a good trip last year over in Europe together as a big wider team. It’s coming along really nicely.”

McKenzie and Fisher’s next goal will be to earn the right to represent New Zealand in the K2 in Paris. And for Fisher, who many regard as the only paddler in the world capable of beating Lisa Carrington, it would also open up the opportunity to race in the women’s K1 500.

“I’d love to have that opportunity, to race that second spot in the K1, and give it a go on that stage.”

Watch the full interview with Aimee Fisher and Danielle McKenzie here.

New Zealand Danielle McKenzie ocean racing France 2019

Canoe Sprint