Australian paddler Jessica Fox won gold in the K1 slalom event at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in 2010, and just two years later was challenging for gold again at the Olympic Games London 2012.
She eventually won K1 silver behind France’s Émilie Fer, and added another Olympic medal in Rio last year, finishing third to Spain’s Maialen Chourraut and New Zealand’s Luuka Jones. Here, she reflects on how her YOG experiences in Singapore helped set her on the path to further Olympic success.
Almost seven years have passed since you competed in the inaugural YOG in Singapore. How do you reflect on your experiences there?
I can't believe it’s been seven years. Singapore 2010 was such a new experience. It was obviously the first YOG and no one really knew what it would be like. When we got there, it was incredible. The Athletes’ Village (in the University campus) was enormous; it was a proper Olympic Games, pretty much. I loved the experience – it was new and we were learning as we went and taking it all in.
Many of the Learn & Share activities were in the Athletes’ Village as well – were you able to participate in any of those?
Yes. I loved the World Culture Village, which had displays for all the different countries. You could go in there, learn a bit about their culture or their history, and it was really interesting. I was 16 at the time and felt like I’d travelled quite a lot, but there were some countries that I’d never even heard of, let alone been to. It was also great to meet athletes from all these places as well and hear their stories about their way of living; it was a real eye-opener. I think that was a really positive and powerful experience to have at 15 or 16.
Have you managed to stay in touch with any of the other athletes you met in Singapore?
I'm still in touch with quite a lot of the YOG athletes, actually – especially the other paddlers, like Jiří Prskavec, who was a bronze medallist in 2010 and then won a bronze in Rio last year as well. There are a few that I’m really good friends with – from other sports in the Australian team as well. We maybe lost touch a little bit after Singapore, but then as we were heading towards the Olympic Games last year, everyone was getting back together. It’s nice to meet up again and see how everyone’s progressing; being at the YOG together first creates a nice little community. We all shared that one experience and had an amazing time and we still have a good laugh about some of the things we did and how young we were.
Do you have any particular memories that stand out for you from Singapore?
Australia had a quite a big team, and they’d decorated our building in the Athletes’ Village with flags and banners to 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.
It only took you two years to have that experience again, when you went on to compete at the Olympic Games London 2012 and win a silver medal. Do you think your time in Singapore helped prepare you for London?
It definitely did because 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. Obviously Singapore was on a smaller scale, but it meant that I knew what to expect. When I got to London I was like, “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.
You were then able to pass on some of your experience to young athletes at the YOG Nanjing 2014, where you were a Young Ambassador for the Australian team…
The Australian Olympic Committee wanted someone who had been to the YOG, had been to an Olympic Games and could inspire and mentor young athletes. That was the role I took; it was more about being a mentor and kind of like a big sister. I didn’t want them to see me as one of the staff; I wanted to be someone who they could come to and talk to easily and freely about anything, whether it was their nerves for their competition or their preparations or anything I could help them with by sharing my experiences of the YOG. I think they appreciated the fact that I was approachable and fun. Some of the young athletes I’m still in contact with – some of them have retired from sport and moved on to other things, but some of them were in Rio and I know they’ll be coming to Tokyo in 2020, for sure.
What advice would you offer to future YOG athletes?
I'd say to definitely take the opportunity and to make the most of it. It’s such a valuable experience 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 being with other athletes from other sports and other cultures.