Two former students of Whakatāne High School have more Olympic gold medals than half of the countries competing at Tokyo 2020.
And one of those students is responsible for most of them. Yesterday, Ōhope-raised Lisa Carrington became New Zealand’s most decorated and successful Olympian ever after winning the women’s K1 500m event.
Carrington has five gold medals to her name, three of which she has won in Tokyo and one each from London and Rio de Janeiro. She also has a bronze medal from Rio.
The other student, Stacey Fluhler, won gold with the Black Ferns Sevens and is now back in managed isolation in New Zealand.
Carrington may not be done yet. She has the opportunity to win another gold medal in the K4 500m. Heats for the event start today.
After winning the K1 500m, Carrington thanked her whānau, friends and supporters and said she couldn’t have done it without them.
“Learning from Rio, you might have the capability to have great races but to actually execute it and do it is another thing,” she told Sky.
“It’s taken me five years to have that courage to get back out there and do something that is really scary and hurts a lot. I hate it, but I love it.
“The way I approach the 500 is just about emptying the tank completely. It’s just a completely different race and into the headwind it’s just a bit longer but the strategy has to stay the same for me. It hurt a lot, but that just means I gave everything, so I’m really happy.”
The four gold medals Carrington and Fluhler have won in Tokyo would see them equal with Canada, Brazil and Czech Republic and above Switzerland, Poland, Croatia and Jamaica with three, as of 5pm yesterday.
Whakatāne High School principal Martyn Knapton said the school was thrilled to see two former students doing so well on the world stage.
“It’s awesome,” he said.
“They were both here from Year 9 to 13 and many of our staff are close with them so they’re celebrating. We’re really, really stoked.
“We had the whole school in the hall to watch and celebrate Lisa’s first victory. The kids were pumped, we’ve got a lot of kids in our school engaged in rowing and kayaking so we wanted to make sure they could see someone from a provincial school can perform at a high level, so it was really powerful.”
He said everyone at the school had their fingers crossed Carrington could maintain her form and find success in her next event.
Fluhler had already promised to drop on the school once she had finished her managed isolation to show off the gold medal.
“They were both really hard-working young people and I think that is what kids can take away from sport. You do the mahi and get the treats, as they say,” Knapton said.
“They both did well in school and have a life beyond sports, it’s balancing those stories.
“We have a lot of national representatives at the school and always have had. Sport is a vehicle to learn and develop some really important life skills beyond sport too.”
Pat Carrington: A huge amount of pride
The Rotorua Daily Post spoke to Carrington’s father Pat before the K1 500m event. Friends and family made the trip up to Auckland earlier in the week to cheer on Lisa in her first races, he said.
“We have such a huge amount of pride in Lisa’s achievements and in the K2, I’m so pleased for Caitlin as well and what those two have achieved together,” Pat said.
“It’s awesome what Lisa has achieved and how she’s gone about doing her work. It was pretty special, we had a group of people who were all going to support Lisa in Tokyo gather at The Cloud.
“Having Lisa’s nan come along was pretty special for her because she wasn’t feeling so well last year and so she’s sort of got a new lease of life. It was great to have her come along and be part of that celebration.”
As a parent, there were some nerves when Carrington took to the water but Pat said he was always confident in her abilities.
“This time I was certainly a little more nervous but I always feel like she’s going to do well,” he said.
“We always have confidence that she’ll leave nothing on the water and give it her best, then the results kind of take care of themselves.
“Over time, with the way she has trained, takes care of herself, takes care of all the little bits and pieces – the results just come on the back of all of that. We keep ourselves calm by knowing Lisa goes out and does her best.”
Carrington was at a crossroads after high school, unsure what she should do with her life while her friends were going off to university, Pat said.
“We just told her that to become the best she could as a kayaker, she’d need to train twice a day, do her study, and try to get a part-time job. That’s what life was like for paddlers back then and she did that,” he said.
“After six months down in Gisborne training with a group down there she decided to give kayaking a really good go. Since she won a world title in 2011, she’s had pretty good support all the way around her and she got more support as she became more successful.”
Pat said Waiotahe Valley School, where Carrington attended, had a special connection with the Olympian.
“She often comes back and visits the school, and speaks to the children. Our community has a real connection with Lisa.
“Some of the children were only 1-year-old in 2016 but they all know who she is and look up to her, it’s nice to have that connection.”
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