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HEARTBREAK: Crucial late penalty forces Jessica Fox to settle for bronze

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27th July, 2021
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She has a very good claim to being the greatest canoeist of all time – male or female – and her dominance with the paddle meant she was the fifth person named to Australia’s Olympic team nearly two years ago.

But Jessica Fox may have to settle for being the best ever to not win Olympic gold after falling short in heartbreaking fashion in Tokyo.

She looked clinical in the heats, finishing a full three seconds ahead of the next-fastest competitor as well as being the only canoeist to go under 100 seconds.

It was domination in the semi-finals too. She couldn’t crack 100 seconds again on the much-harder course, but she was again three full seconds ahead of the next competitor.

While she was able to run the course three seconds faster than her competitors in the final once again, two crucial touches on upstream gates added four penalty seconds to her time, putting her behind Germany’s Ricarda Funk in gold and reigning Rio champion Maialen Chourraut of Spain in silver.

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It caps off an eventful few years for the French-born superstar. In 2018, she told AthletesVoice her bizarre tale of how her custom-made canoe got stolen from her Penrith training centre while she was in Europe.

“I was looking forward to getting home to jump into my canoe … and then I heard it was stolen,” she said.

“The question is why? Why steal my canoe?

“I don’t know if it was taken because they knew it was mine, or if they took it just for fun,” she said.

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The story had even more wild twists – it turns out bringing an Olympic canoe on a commercial flight isn’t easy – but had a happy ending – the canoe turned up a few weeks later missing only a few stickers.

That story may have gone “semi-viral” (in her words), but if you hadn’t heard of her before then that’s really on you.

She may only be 27 years old, but she’s already racked up 15 medals at ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships – seven of which are individual. Nobody, male or female, has as many individual medals as her.

The only thing missing from Fox’s resume had been that elusive Olympic gold. She nabbed silver at London 2012 and Bronze at Rio 2016, before having to wait an agonising five years to get her shot again in Tokyo.

Her parents are both accomplished canoeists in their own right. Mother Myriam won bronze for France at Atlanta 1996, to go with eight world championship golds, while father Richard, who commentated on the race, collected ten world championship golds for Great Britain and a fourth-place finish at Barcelona 1992.

Fox’s mission over the last few years has also included growing the profile of canoeing in Australia. She’s been encouraged by the growth of the sport since her silver in 2012, claiming “[fewer] people call it rowing, so that’s a big win!”

Hopefully, young Australians are still inspired enough by her dominance to keep the sport’s profile rising.

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