Olympics: Big interview – Lisa Carrington on what’s driving her to a Paris without her favourite event

Lisa Carrington would like to contest all three sprint kayaking disciplines at the 2024 Olympics, though the ultimate call will depend on the depth of the wider canoe racing team.

The 32-year-old became New Zealand’s most successful Olympian in Tokyo, with three gold medals on the Sea Forest Waterway, to add to her K1 200m triumph in London and two podium finishes (gold and bronze) in Rio.

Although it is a long way out, Carrington could target the K1 500m, K2 500m and K4 500m at the next Games.

“I definitely want to continue individually and I want to be a part of a team,” Carrington told Jason Pine on Newstalk ZB. “I love both. I love working in a team, and I also love challenging myself on my own.

“If we can get a K4 together that would be awesome. [And] a K2, absolutely. We just have to figure out what our best options are as a sport [because] we’re not that big in New Zealand.”

But Carrington admitted it is still hard to accept that she won’t be able to race for a fourth K1 200m title in 2024, after the event was cut to make room for extreme canoe slalom competitions.

“It makes me realise that the sport is quite political and you are at the whim of the leadership of the sport,” says Carrington. “I want to make sure that I give myself good opportunities that aren’t always dictated by those decisions made by people in high places.”

Carrington took the first step on the long road to the Paris Games last week, as she resumed full scale training at Luke Pupuke, after a few weeks of building her fitness base.

“I was having a break during this lockdown and I cut it short a few weeks because having something to wake up for, a purpose, is super important,” says Carrington.

Last month the 32-year-old confirmed her plans to continue for another Olympic cycle.

Like many athletes, she had felt the pressure to make a call from a long way out, accentuated after her remarkable Tokyo deeds.

“There’s an expectation that you have to make a decision after every Games, to stick to those cycles,” says Carrington. “I probably decided about a year ago that I could still keep going but I had almost forgotten about that decision when I finished Tokyo, with everything that was going on in the last year.”

It was a robust process, necessary to ensure that such a significant commitment was being undertaken for the right reasons.

“I guess the decision wasn’t hard to make but it was challenging to really explore all the things that I was feeling in that moment,” says Carrington. “From, you know, am I going to be too old to have children? Can my body withstand another cycle? Do I want to keep pushing myself every day? All these things that come up.”

Carrington said there was “no real point” where she seriously considered retirement, but she wanted to rigorously examine her reasons for continuing.

“I was just making sure, questioning it – do I still want to do this?,” explains Carrington. “That helped me cover off all those things that I was going to commit to.”

The news was well received, not least at High Performance Sport New Zealand.

Since 2012 Carrington has featured in 29 percent of the gold medals won by this country (5/17).

Across the same period her individual haul outstrips the combined totals achieved by six other targeted sports – sailing, track and field, cycling, equestrian, triathlon and hockey (three golds).

The figures are staggering but pursuing more precious metal isn’t the primary motivation for the Ohope-born paddler.

“I’m fairly fortunate – I get a lot from what I do,” says Carrington. “I also have a drive to continue to push the boundaries, so that’s incredibly rewarding when I can continually improve.

“We’ve stuck really strong to what we believe in, having really good people and good principles and values around what we do.

“And then there’s the challenge – achieving something feels really good. I’m not talking winning; I’m talking achieving things [where] you have to push yourself and use a whole lot of courage to turn up.

“So when those things are the value that I find, the medals and that type of thing don’t really determine whether I stay [in the sport] or not.”

For all of Carrington’s famed mental strength, she has been tested by Auckland’s prolonged lockdown, after coming straight out of MIQ into a level four scenario in August.

“I miss my parents and my family a lot,” says Carrington. “I haven’t seen them since the end of June. It’s crazy to think that I might not see them, hopefully we can see them at Christmas. I definitely would love to be able to do more than just stay at my house.”

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