A conversation with two-time Olympic gold medallist Lisa Carrington is a lesson in humble understatement. If you didn’t know her stellar track record thus far, you could be fooled into thinking she was just your average athlete.
“I was lucky I started doing quite well in 2011, three years out of school," Lisa explained to NEXT. "It was a good range of stepping stones I made during the process; it’s good for helping you stick to the sport.”
With no signs of slowing down, Lisa has just picked up gold in Rio, though she speaks so casually about her training, you'd think she'd just gone for a row in the park.
In 2011 the flat canoe racer – who at this stage had only done kayaking double (K2) races with teammate Erin Taylor – decided to enter the kayaking single (K1) race at the 2011 World Championships “just to give it a go and see where I was at”.
She ended up not only winning gold, but also became the first ever Kiwi woman to win a canoeing World Championship Title. A year later, at the London Olympics, she took home the gold medal for the K2 race and instantly went from being a little-known competitor in an under-funded sport to become one of the country’s most recognisable sporting heroes.
Carrington, 27, is typically low-key about her impact on the sport but does acknowledge her success has had a positive effect on how kayaking is viewed – and funded – in New Zealand. “It’s a tough one, because it’s top down. You need those high performances, like I had done, to allow the sport the money and the resources to then develop the athletes coming through.”
Not only has Carrington’s success given us one of our strongest chances for the 2016 Rio Olympics, it’s also shifted the gender representation in a typically male-dominated field.
"When I started kayaking, our men were the strongest. And now our women are getting stronger – they’re definitely becoming dominant, which is really cool to see.”
Her lead-up to the Rio Olympics seemed much more relaxed than you would have expected of a gold medalist. Just a month after she recently set another world record at the World Championships in Moscow she was back into rigorous training.
It was a much looser schedule than it had been for the previous Olympics, as she just completed her BA in Māori Studies and Politics at Massey University – which she’s been doing part-time since 2008. Carrington, who is Ngāti Porou and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, says it was important she picked a degree that not only interested her, but appealed to her heritage.
However, it’s not the time management she finds the hardest to deal with; it’s the mental solitude of so many hours alone on the water.
“I really enjoy being part of a team, so not having teammates around me is my biggest challenge. I do have a great support team with my physio, my coach, and I’ve got great training partners – but they’ve all got their own lives.”
Part of her support team includes boyfriend Michael Buck, a former surf life-saver who she’s been dating for five years, before the sporting spotlight found her and the expectations of a nation followed.
As for her win in Rio, she was remarkably calm about her chances before the event. “It’s hard when people say, ‘Oh, so you’re going to win two gold medals?’ It’s not to say I wouldn’t love to win, but I can’t control that aspect.
"What I can control is how fast I can go. A gold medal or placing is just a result – it’s not going to be the deciding factor of Lisa Carrington. It’s just about making sure that 40 seconds’ worth of effort isn’t going to change who I am.”
Lisa will now compete in the K1 500m, which will take place on Thursday, for her chance at a third Olympic gold medal.
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