Myriam Jerusalmi was a trailblazer for the sport of canoe slalom in France, winning the world championships eight times in the 1980s and 90s and taking bronze in the K-1 slalom in Atlanta 1996. Richard Fox, meanwhile, was one of Great Britain’s greatest ever slalom canoeists, winning ten world titles in the same era and finishing fourth in the K-1 at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Myriam and Richard married and their daughter Jessica Fox was born on 11 June 1994 in Marseille, France. The family then moved to Australia where Richard became the head coach of the Australian national canoe team in the run-up to the 2000 Games in Sydney. As a result, their talented daughter Jessica, who has taken up the family vocation, can now be found sporting Australian colours.
Jessica Fox grew up near the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, where her parents worked and which was the venue for the canoe slalom at the Sydney Olympic Games. She started paddling aged 11 and stood out straight away thanks to her parents’ coaching - her mother Myriam remains her coach to this day. When Jessica was selected to compete in the K-1 class at the first ever Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010 she was already junior world champion. Her fluid descent easily earned her the gold medal there.
Two years later Fox, aged just 17, made the step up to the Olympic Games. “At the Youth Olympic Games I was the favourite because I’d already won World Juniors, but it’s completely different here,” she said at the time. “It’s an amazing experience. There are so many more people and the girls I’m racing against have already raced in one, two or even three Olympics already.” Among her seasoned rivals was the Czech Stepanka Hilgertova who won gold back in Atlanta 1996 when Jessica’s mother took the bronze.
During her first run in the qualification rounds at the Lee Valley White Water Centre Fox capsized, but she had a much better second run which got her through to the semi-finals. There she recorded the eighth fastest time, which was good enough to get her to the final. And in her final run she posted the time to beat of 106.51.
“My goal was to make the final so at the start I was like, give it everything. No matter what the result to perform like that in an Olympic final is something I was really proud of.” Then there was a wait. “I was so nervous! We watched everyone else coming down going worst, I’m 5th… I’m 4th… I’m 3rd…”
In the end, only Emilie Fer (FRA) managed to beat Fox’s time to take the gold, leaving the Australian with the silver medal. Her success pushed the legendary Czech paddler Hilgertova off the podium.
Fox continued her run of great form in 2013, becoming double world champion in Prague as she claimed victory in the C-1 individual and team classes while still only 19 years old. More Olympic success undoubtedly awaits.
In the meantime she plans to return to the Youth Olympic Games as a Young Ambassador, appointed by the Australian Olympic committee to take part in the cultural and education programme in Nanjing. “It’s a different aspect of the Youth Olympic Games,” she reflects. “It’s important to race well and be prepared, but it’s just as important to respect other cultures and to understand competitors coming from all different countries. It will be great. I can’t wait!”