She is our greatest Olympian ever

She is the poster child for kayaking in New Zealand, the five-time Olympic gold medalist with an infectious laugh. But Dame Lisa Carrington wants to be known for more than just her success on the water, Guy Heveldt reported on Sunday.

Dame Lisa Carrington is an indomitable force in the world of kayaking.

With five gold medals won at three Olympic Games, she is our most successful Olympian of all time.

And now there are less than 100 days left before she can add another three medals to her collection.

Carrington is the favorite to defend her gold in the K1 500, the K2 500 with Alicia Hoskin, and perhaps most notably during these games, the K4 500.

On the outside, she appears unflappable, unbeatable, stoic and unwaveringly calm.

Still on the inside?

Pressure to win

“I feel it all, I feel the pressure, the expectation,” Carrington said on Sunday.

“I could look at it as if I don’t win, people will think badly of me.”

But she doesn’t like to always focus on expectations, she said.

“I will be very disappointed if I lose. Absolutely, I would be desperate. But at the end of the day, sport is a game.”

Her husband, Michael (Bucky) Buck, sees it all firsthand.

“I would say there’s rarely a day where she doesn’t feel some pressure,” he said.

“A lot of it is self-driven, she strives for a bit of perfection. She tries to avoid perfection, but it is there.”

The success she has achieved only adds to that, he explained.

“She feels that weight of expectation.”

Dame Lisa Carrington takes to the water for an early morning workout.

Dame Lisa is driven by routine: a cup of coffee before training, stretching, journaling and then off to training.

The training is never shorter or longer than what is set by her coach Gordon Walker. That’s because everything is perfectly planned,

Buck said this is something that sometimes baffles him.

“Talking openly about the pressure really helps her, and I think when it comes to the brace moment, my interpretation is that she just decides she has to accept it.

“It’s just there and she just has to face it and embrace the opportunity.”

Perhaps a sign that she doesn’t want to put extra pressure on herself is the lack of her numerous Olympic and World Championship medals on display at her home.

“There’s probably two things in there: I don’t want to brag, I don’t want to be too proud. Just humble,” Carrington said.

“And I also want to be more than just a kayaker and Olympian. I’m Lisa Carrington, I’m a daughter, a woman. I also think that is very important.”

The only award on display at Carrington’s home is the Supreme Halberg award, one of three she has won.

“Bucky broke up with me,” she laughed.

“But it’s pretty cool, it’s more than just an award, I think.”

Love for food

Bucky and Lisa in their "happy place."

Those closest to Carrington want to reiterate that she is more than just the performances audiences see.

She is an avid cook and has a vegetable garden in her backyard. It’s here where she and Bucky regularly spark goodness. From pizza to a special ‘elephant dung’ dip made by her mother, full of ‘cheesy, oniony goodness’.

It’s a treat for Carrington, but something she lets herself enjoy.

Close friend Fiona Hastie said Carrington was ‘in tune with her body’.

“She’s smart about that kind of thing. She has a real appreciation for food.

“I don’t think you would find Bucky and Lisa happier than a house full of friends making something delicious.”

For Carrington, food is one of the pleasures of traveling the world.

“When I go to a new country, people are so passionate about their food and where it comes from, and I think I’ve really been able to connect with the tradition behind it,” she said.

“In Italy it’s pasta and pizza and buffalo mozzarella. They talk about their dough, it’s centuries old. I think that’s what’s so great for me is understanding and connecting with people in the food space.

“And the food tastes good,” she laughed.

But food doesn’t always bring fond memories for the kayaking superstar. It also partly led to moments that have stayed with her for years.

More than a decade ago, Carrington was eating ice cream when a coach made a comment to her.

“’A second on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.’ I still remember it,” she recalls.

“I think it’s people in those really powerful positions who have influence.”

Unwanted attention

Lisa Carrington and her dog.

She has also received comments from the general public about her appearance.

The 34-year-old is known for her muscular physique, strength and athletic prowess, which has drawn some judgment.

“I went into a dairy the other day (and) the dairy farm owner, super, super innocent, he said, ‘God, you haven’t been here in a while.’ I’m like, ‘yeah, yeah, I moved,’ and he’s like, ‘oh, you’re a lot bigger now.’

Some days she can handle the comments and see that nothing is meant by them, but other days they can get to her, she said.

“There are days when the comments have made me question what I wear or how I feel about myself.

“I’m different, I look a little different… Maybe you don’t see too many women like me who have muscles, so it’s just a realization that people notice.”

It can affect how she feels about going out in public and she said she “doesn’t always like” being recognised.

“Sometimes they wear a hoodie and sweatpants on the road because I don’t want people talking to me about my muscles.”

Hunting for gold in Paris

Dame Lisa Carrington wins her ninth world title in a row in the K1 200m.

Carrington, however, is in the public eye, and in less than 100 days, most of the country will be watching her as she tries to add to her illustrious career, five Olympic gold medals and 15 world titles.

One of these recent world titles made Kiwi sport history – the first women’s K4 world title in Germany last year.

Joining Alicia Hoskin, 24, Olivia Brett, 22, and Tara Vaughan, 20, the quartet put the canoe sprint world in the spotlight with this achievement.

The team has only been in the boat together for two years, but now heads to Paris as favorites to convert their world title into Olympic gold.

Brett said a focus on teamwork is “so much more rewarding.”

“I have been kayaking for ten years and the past two years have been the most satisfying.”

Vaughan, the youngest member of the crew, still can’t quite believe the boat she’s in and the rowers she has on board.

“We are so lucky to have girls with pinching experience. Together we try to learn more and more how we can be a better team.”

Hoskin competed in Tokyo and, along with Carrington, was part of the K4 crew that made the final but finished outside the medal contention.

She believes there is something different about this crew.

“We have done a lot of work behind the scenes to maintain our mentality. We try not to limit ourselves by what other countries are doing, we almost think: how far can a women’s kayak go? What other barriers are there that we can break?”

Lisa Carrington, Alicia Hoskin, Olivia Brett and Tara Vaughan are heading to Europe next weekend.

Coach Gordon Walker believes the coming months of training and competition in Europe will give them the perfect indication of where they stand before winning the gold medal.

“It will be interesting to see what the rest of the world thinks: are we still the underdogs or what? One swallow doesn’t make a summer.

“We had one good race, does that mean much for the rest of the world?”

Carrington said there is no preference as to which medal would be best if she can take it home.

“Whether we win or not, it makes us strive for something we all believe in. It is very special to be part of a team and part of a group where we all want the same thing.

“There is real strength in that and teams that work well together are hard to find.”

The quartet will head to Europe next weekend, where the youngsters will look to win their first Olympic medals and Carrington will look to add to New Zealand’s greatest Olympic career.

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