Heath rides out the tough days to stay on top of his game

Liam Heath’s return to international racing and a return to the top of the podium could not have come at a better time for the Olympic gold medallist.

32-year-old Heath admits this year has been tough, and there have been times when Great Britain’s most successful Olympic sprint canoeist has questioned why he was still paddling.

But all it took was 34.259 seconds in lane nine in the K1 200 final in Szeged last weekend for Heath to get the fire back in his belly.

Many athletes find the year straight after an Olympics to be the most challenging, when they feel emotionally drained after a tough four-year qualification campaign and the natural come down after the euphoria of a Games.

“I can completely agree with that,” Heath said.

“I’ve had ups and downs in training psychologically. Physically, I’m there. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, bit heavier, lifting a bit more weight in the gym.

“But psychologically it’s been tough. I’ve been training by myself down at Dorney because British Canoeing has moved up north, so we try and collaborate when we can.

“So it’s been pretty lonely and quite hard when you’re out there in England in the rain and the storms and the weather, and sometimes you think, bloody hell, I’ve done it, what am I still doing it for?

“But then you come to events like this and it all makes sense.”

Post Rio British Canoeing decided to move its base to the north of England, and most of the high performance squad have moved there.

But Heath is firmly ensconced in Guildford. He and his wife, Emily, are expecting their first child in September, and Heath believes he can still get the results training by himself, no matter how lonely it might get.

He has a new coach, but the same routines and training patterns. And he’s excited about stepping up to the challenge of being the paddler everyone wants to beat.

“It is quite nerve-wracking coming in as Olympic Champion,” he said after Sunday’s gold medal in Szeged.

“You think you are the benchmark and everyone is out to get you. But everyone is out just trying to go as fast as they can, and that’s all I’m trying to do.

“Every time I go out there I try and prove to myself I’m a pretty good paddler, and that I can paddle pretty quickly, and that’s what I’m going to continue doing.

“You wouldn’t be a competitor if you were scared of competing, so it’s really good to get that first one under the belt at least.”

And while there have been challenges post-Rio, overwhelmingly Liam Heath, MBE, has been enjoying life as an Olympic gold medallist.

Even if it has meant stepping out of his comfort zone. A lot.

“It’s been really good,” he said.

“I’m talking and doing a lot more interviews than I normally do. I’m usually quite a quiet, reserved person, so I’ve had to practice talking a lot more and not mixing my sentences up so much.

“But it’s been great being at home, getting out to schools and showing the younger generations and older generations my medals, and hopefully inspiring them to do great things in their lives.”

Heath’s post-Olympic journey continues this weekend at ICF World Cup 3 in Belgrade, where his ongoing rivalry with French Olympic silver medallist, Maxime Beaumont, will once again be one of the highlights on an action-packed weekend.

Pic by Balint Vekassy

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