ANALYSIS: After Olympic great Dame Lisa Carrington confirmed her status as the nation’s top K1 paddler this week, a big question still lingered in the crisp air on the shore of Lake Karapiro: what could have been?
Few outside of canoe racing circles would have known the name of Aimee Fisher, the reigning K1 500 world champion, before last week’s thrilling best-of-three showdown with Carrington for the sole spot in the world championship in Canada later this year. But in sports, Fisher has been leading a quiet revolution for two years.
Next week, May 4 (a fitting date to take matters into your own hands if there was one) will mark two years since Fisher sat down with Canoe Racing NZ boss Tom Ashley and trainer Gordon Walker and informed them that she was leaving the national team. Since then, she has run her program independently of the national body and the High Performance Sport NZ machine.
Canoe Racing NZ tried to get Fisher, New Zealand’s top exponent of speed kayaking behind the incomparable Carrington, to join the elite women’s team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics last year. But after a seven-month standoff with the national body over athlete welfare concerns, Fisher ultimately refused to stand for selection.
* Dame Lisa Carrington defeats Aimee Fisher in the third race of the K1 500m duel at Lake Karapiro
* Lisa Carrington defeats her rival Aimee Fisher to improve their gripping kayak duel
* Aimee Fisher beats Olympic champion Dame Lisa Carrington in epic national canoe sprint final
* Aimee Fisher wins canoe sprint world title after leaving Tokyo Olympic selection
* Top paddler walks away from Olympic dream due to Canoe Racing NZ’s ‘dangerous’ environment
It’s a move many believe cost Fisher and the women’s K4 team an Olympic medal – likely gold, as well as potentially individual medals as New Zealand qualified two boats in the women’s K1 events. 200m and 500m in Tokyo.
His performances this week, going virtually head-to-head with Carrington over three intense races, only reinforced the idea that Canoe Racing NZ left Olympic medals on the table by not creating an environment in which Fisher felt comfortable. safe and supported.
As media interest in her story intensified after she knocked Carrington down in the K1 500m final at last weekend’s national championships, Fisher delicately asked about what led her to quit. Canoe Racing NZ’s elite women’s team, or their concerns with the environment. For now, she says, she wants to focus on the future and let her actions do the talking.
But the important thing to know about Aimee Fisher is that she never tried to start a war with her national body. She was trying to make peace with herself.
It’s clear that Fisher thinks there were far more important victories than medals to be had coming out of the system.
That last week even happened is already a massive victory for Fisher and other athletes who fought for a fair and transparent selection process.
Fisher’s success outside the system has also given High Performance Sport NZ bosses food for thought at a time when officials are investigating the risk centralized programs pose to athlete welfare.
Among the issues considered by the panel investigating Cycling NZ following the death of elite cyclist Olivia Podmore is the impact of ‘high performance programs which require elite athletes to be in one place most of the year”. In the wake of Podmore’s death from suspected suicide, several members of the cycling community have spoken out about the dangers of pushing young athletes away from their homes and support networks and into pressure cooker environments.
Fisher offered a real-time demonstration of how things can be done differently.
Rather than trying to fit the athlete to the system, she says sport needs to take a more individualistic approach.
“Women’s sport is going through this huge moment right now, our women have produced incredible results. But at the same time, we’re not quite getting there, are we? Because there have been so many problems , which makes you think how much talent are we missing?How much better could we be if the system was better suited to women?
“I don’t know the answers, I have ideas, but I don’t necessarily know if they are the right answers. But I feel like we have this opportunity in New Zealand right now where we can stop and think and see how we do this thing.
After his performances this week, Fisher will no doubt be under some pressure to re-enter the system as officials ask another big question: what could be? Having arguably the two fastest K1 paddlers in the world opens up a range of Olympic medal possibilities on multiple boats in Paris, but for now Fisher seems content with his current setup.
“It’s certainly been a process of walking through fire at times and it’s definitely been difficult, but at the same time it’s been very liberating, and I think there’s still a lot of gains to be made.” , Fisher said after Thursday’s loss to Carrington in the final Test race.
“For now, I’m all in K1. I want to see how fast I can get these boats going.