Eva Tercelj knows better than most what it takes to get to the very top of her sport.

But she also knows how long the fall is when things don’t quite go to plan. As the 32-year-old Slovenian prepares for her third Olympics, she reflects on a career that saw her become a K1 world champion in 2019.

Tercelj was just 20 when she made her Olympic debut in London in 2012, but she had arelady been paddling against the best in the world for five years. She won her first, and so far only, ICF world cup gold medal in 2013.

It was on the same course, La Seu in Spain, where she became world champion in 2019. Tercelj was in the best form of her career. If the Olympics had not been delayed by a year, the Slovenian would have headed to Tokyo as a medal favourite.

But it didn’t work out that way, instead finishing in 24th place when the Olympics did finally go ahead in 2021.

“I’ve only watched the race a few times,” Tercelj told the Path to Paris podcast.

“It was what it was, I just tried to get some positive things out of it and not make the same mistakes again. This was just another race in my career. There are many, and there are always ups and downs.”

But before you jump to the conclusion that Tercelj won’t watch the race because it’s too hard to stomach, she also doesn’t watch her good races.

Maybe I’m not the sort of person who looks too much in the past

“In the end I also didn’t watch too many times my World Championships winning run,” she said.

“Maybe I’m not the sort of person who looks too much in the past. I just try and focus on what it is now, and what I have in front of me. I just try to adapt and try to learn, because I still really enjoy training and racing, it’s a never ending story of learning and growing.”

As is always the way, earning an Olympic quota for Slovenia was a slog. Earning the right to represent her country in Paris was even harder. But Tercelj is on the team, and hoping to remind the world what she is capable of.

She’s trying to rediscover the formula that took her to the top five years ago, and to remember how to deal with big race pressure.

“I’m trying to find that recipe,” she said.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m really good under pressure because I’ve also had really bad races under pressure. Every race is a bit different, or every season is a bit different.

“This is the fourth Olympic Games that I have been trying to qualify, and I always know that it is always really intense, really stressful. It was the same last year, because we were trying to get a quota, as well as our internal qualification races.”

At the end of 2023 Tercelj was spent. The season had been long, the racing challenging, and the stress of qualifying for an Olympics was ever present.

After the season I felt really empty, my batteries were empty

And Tercelj admits, she’s not as young as she once was. She’s learning to train smarter now.

“Last season was really challenging,” Tercelj told the Path to Paris podcast.

“After the season I felt really empty, my batteries were empty, but I was really happy that I got to qualify again, and to be able to do it a few months before I had qualified for London and Tokyo. This time I have more time to prepare, and I hope I will use this time well.

“Maybe I have more experience what not to do, but in general I have learned what is good for me in training and preparation. When I’m getting older, the training has to adapt a little bit.”

For someone as talented as Tercelj it seems hard to believe she has not made an Olympic final, and has only been world champion once. For Paris there is nothing being left to chance.

Tercelj spent several weeks training in Australia over the European winter. She’s preparing physically, and also mentally for what she knows could be her final Olympic Games.

I hope I’m at the peak and I’m going up and I can stay there, but for now I’m just going to focus on Paris. This is my really big goal, where I want to perform well,” she said.

“I will just take some time, because I am in this world cup circuit from 2007. It has been a lot of seasons, so now I’ll focus on Paris and we’ll see how it goes.

“I just try to listen to myself a little bit more and try not to push myself, because I always try to give everything, but there have been too many times when I get nothing. I just need to be patient and smart.

I don’t know much of a different life for me

“It’s just another opportunity to learn something, to learn from my mistakes, and work as well as I can and prepare for my third Olympic Games. I just want to be mentally and physically really well prepared so I can enjoy the Games.”

What carries Tercelj through the rollercoaster ride that is top-level international sport is the love of competing. While others might talk about how they have had to make sacrifices to achieve their goals, Tercelj talks opportunities.

“Whatever you do, if you do it professionally and with all your heart, there are always sacrifices,” she said.

“But at the end, I don’t know much of a different life for me. There are always things that you need to sacrifice, but I really enjoy it, and if I didn’t, well I wouldn’t be here.

“At the end, there are many more pluses than minuses. I really love this sport, and am just happy to be part of it.”

The full interview with Eva Tercelj can be found on our Path to Paris podcast.

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