Jessica Fox was just 16 years old when she won K1 slalom gold at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010, but it proved to be a life-changing experience for the young Australian.
Buoyed by her YOG success, she was making waves again just two weeks later – but this time on the senior circuit, as she claimed C1 bronze at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Slovenia. Since then, Fox has become one of the biggest stars in her sport, winning five individual world titles across the C1 and K1 disciplines, as well as a silver medal at London 2012 and bronze at Rio 2016.
Here, the 24-year-old reflects on how her YOG experiences in Singapore helped set her on the path to further Olympic success…
A step into the unknown
Going to Singapore 2010 was such a new experience. It was obviously the first Youth Olympic Games and no one really knew what to expect. I remember chatting to some other girls at the Junior World Championships a few months before, and some of them weren’t sure if they were even going to compete in Singapore or not. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is a massive opportunity and these guys are going to miss out”.
When we got to the YOG, it was incredible; beyond anything I had imagined. The Youth Olympic Village was enormous and the whole organisation was legit; it was like a proper Olympic Games. Australia had a quite a big team, and they’d decorated our building in the Village with flags and banners as if to mark our territory and say, “This is our building.” I remember arriving on the first day, seeing that and then getting our uniforms; it was really cool and it felt so great to be a part of such a big team because I’ve always competed in a very individual sport. Once Singapore had finished, I really wanted to experience that again; I really wanted to be a part of the Australian Olympic team again.
Riding the crest of a wave
Heading into the YOG, I’d just come off the Junior World Championships – where I’d won two gold medals – so I was already feeling like I was on cloud nine.
I’d trained really hard for Singapore because the events were slightly different to what I was used to; we were racing on flat water instead of white water and I was also competing in the sprint kayaking, which I don’t usually do.
I just wanted to give it my best shot. When I got to the final, I was really thinking, “I could win this, I know I’ve got a medal but I really want the gold medal now”. It definitely brought out my competitive nature even more.
Winning the gold was wonderful and it was a very proud moment to stand on the podium, sing the anthem and then be greeted by my teammates.
I maybe wish I’d been able to soak it all up a little bit more, but I was also focused on the senior World Championships, which were just two weeks later.
In Singapore, we were paddling and training in kayaks that were plastic and they weighed 17kg, but the ones we race in on white water only weigh 8kg. I was just killing myself on the water training really hard and, as soon as I got to the World Championships, I was in very good physical form and, obviously, the kayak felt like it weighed 2kg compared to the plastic one!
I was on such a high after Singapore; I was buzzing and fit and excited to race at the worlds. I came sixth in the K1 and third in the C1, which was a fantastic result for me for my first World Championships. It was a pretty exciting result that I would never have expected.
Before Singapore 2010, I was targeting Rio 2016 as my first Olympic Games. After all, it was only two years until London 2012, and I would still only be 18, so Rio seemed more realistic. But after finishing fifth and third at the 2010 World Championships, I started to think, “Hang on, maybe in two years, maybe I could get to London, maybe that is possible”. So I started really visualising London and working towards London.
When I qualified I was 18 and had just finished school; it was a dream come true to be in London. For me, just getting there was a massive achievement. That was the big goal. Once I achieved that, it was like, “Right, now what’s the next step?” I thought, in my mind, a top-15 result would be great. We started the World Cup circuit in preparation for London and I made all the finals, which I’d never done before. Then I was thinking, “I’m making finals here regularly at the World Cups, so maybe a final at the Olympic Games is possible too”. I kept adjusting my goal and making it that little bit higher.
My mentality was just to take it race by race. When I made it to the final, I was the youngest athlete there and I was up against Olympic champions and world champions. I just wanted to enjoy it and do my best. A silver medal was a big surprise. Some of the best girls maybe didn’t paddle to their potential and I just did the best that I could. It was an amazing feeling. I couldn’t believe I’d won a silver medal at the Olympic Games.
Being well prepared for the Olympic Games
Everybody talks about how overwhelming the Olympic Games can be – with things like the Village, the media hype and the crowds – and it can all be very distracting if you’re not prepared for it. You don’t know what to expect and you can’t really imagine it or visualise it unless you’ve had that experience.
Obviously, the YOG was on a smaller scale, but competing there meant that I knew a little bit more about what to expect at London 2012. I was grateful that I got that chance in Singapore because, when I got to London, I thought to myself, “Yes, I’ve done this before”. I wasn’t as distracted as I may have been [if I hadn’t been to Singapore]. I knew how everything worked and I think that really helped me.
The biggest thing was knowing to be more patient, as there can be a lot of waiting around at the Games. That helped me not get caught up with little things, like a bus being delayed or something like that, which athletes sometimes do when you’re preparing for the biggest event of your life; the little things can really affect you.
Making the most of your YOG experience
Going to the YOG is such a valuable experience – having the chance to perform on that world stage, to be a part of a team, to be immersed in the Olympic vibe and to also learn about all the Olympic values. There are a lot of things you can learn that, I think, are really important as a young athlete. It’s not just about the sport and winning medals, it’s also about sportsmanship and learning about gender equality and issues like doping and match-fixing. Competing is obviously a big part of it, but it’s about learning along the way, gaining a lot from the experience, from sharing, from being a part of a team and for being with other athletes from other sports and other cultures.
For information and resources about the YOG Buenos Aires 2018, visit Athlete365’s ‘Get Ready Pack’ here