Coach Gordon Walker believes it will be hard for Lisa Carrington to hang up the paddle – because her best is still yet to come.
Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics there were suggestions that Carrington would bow out after this Games, following a decade at the top of her sport.
Carrington didn’t offer a definitive answer either way, in most interviews saying she was only focussed on performing in the Japanese capital, and the future would be contemplated after that.
The 32-year-old became the talk of the nation with her stupendous accomplishments on the Sea Forest Waterway, capturing the imagination like few Kiwi Olympians ever have.
If Carrington chooses to retire, the Ohope paddler would be departing on an unbelievable high, after achieving something we probably won’t see again.
But long-time mentor Walker, who has coached Carrington since 2011, says it would be a difficult call to exit, as she is still improving.
“Lisa is probably in a similar situation to a lot of people, when they finish a pinnacle event, they do need to take time to process a bit of stuff and make a really good decision,” Walker told the Herald.
“But one of the challenges that she is going to have in terms of stopping is that when you are still improving and you feel like there is more that you can offer, it’s more like you are saying no – and it’s hard to say no to things.”
Carrington’s performances in Tokyo were emphatic, with comprehensive victory margins in the K1 200m, K1 500m and K2 500m (with Caitlin Regal) despite a much more onerous schedule than her rivals, but Walker believes she isn’t near her performance ceiling.
“According to everything I know, she is getting better all the time and I can’t see why she can’t keep getting better,” says Walker. “There are definitely things she could do, that she can’t do yet.”
Walker, who has worked with Carrington for six days a week on Auckland’s Lake Pupuke for much of the last 10 years, says her capacities are far from exhausted.
“From a training perspective, you know when someone has trained themselves to the end of the line,” says Walker. “She is nowhere near the end of the line.
“For sure she is fast, and in the race she is fast, but compared to where she is in training, she is still a long way off where she could be.”
As well as her unfulfilled potential, Walker observes that Carrington still enjoys the demanding training schedule.
“I don’t think it’s been a chore for her,” says Walker. “The challenge of meeting the day – not just from a training point of view but meeting it authentically and with purpose – I don’t think that will ever be a chore for her. [But] she does enjoy the physical component, and the challenge of doing something technical.”
But it won’t be a simple decision.
“There will be lots of variables in terms of how she makes that decision,” says Walker. “At the end of the day it comes down to heart, what you really feel and if you want to do it.”
New Zealand kayaking team leaves Tokyo
The New Zealand kayaking team depart Japan on Monday night, after a regatta to remember.
“Everyone is pretty exhausted but very satisfied and proud,” says Walker. “Some of things we pulled off were kind of impossible. When things are that great you can’t really put them in context.”
“[But] the way that the team was working together, and the support team has had to work together to get the team to perform, it was an incredible performance from everyone.”
Walker was particularly thrilled with the K2 500m win, given the strength in depth of the top European nations.
“It was a beautiful race,” says Walker. “Executing and pulling off your plan is every Olympian’s challenge and being able to deliver on the strategy was wicked.”
Walker was also delighted for the men’s K2 1000m crew of Max Brown and Kurtis Imrie, who improved from 15th at the 2019 world championships to fifth, despite a tougher field, with two crews allowed from each country.
“They beat the world record holders and they were challenging for a medal, in the hardest sporting environment there is,” says Walker. “I was kind of lost for words to be honest.”
Walker hopes the Tokyo performances will be the impetus for a new growth phase in kayaking – “sport is a lot about momentum” but also wants to savour the moment.
“To win three gold medals is amazing,” said Walker. “Hungary with all their depth had three golds. Germany (one gold) probably has more clubs than we have paddlers. To finish first, first, first, fourth, fifth and ninth is pretty amazing for a kayaking nation of our size.”
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