As the Olympic Movement marks the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Games Sydney 2000, canoe-slalom world champion Jess Fox reveals how the event impacted her own career.
Jess Fox may only have been six years old when the Olympic Games were held in her hometown of Sydney, but the event has had a huge influence on her life and her sporting career.
Now aged 26, Fox has become the most successful paddler in the history of the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships, with seven individual titles, while she also won K1 gold at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010, as well as silver and bronze medals at the Olympic Games London 2012 and Rio 2016 respectively. And much of her success can be traced back to Sydney 2000 and her earliest memories of the Games.
“Both my parents were Olympians and my dad worked at Sydney 2000 with the Australian team. He was the coach, so we grew up with the word ‘Olympics’ getting thrown around a lot,” she explains.
“I grew up by the riverbank and saw the world’s best athletes training and I remember the Sydney Olympics; I was six, but I can still remember the atmosphere and the vibe.”
As the daughter of Olympians and multiple world kayak champions Myriam Jerusalmi-Fox and Richard Fox, she may have seemed destined for success on the whitewater, but her initial dreams saw her forging her own path in a different sport.
“I always wanted to go to the Olympics from a young age, but I thought I would be a swimmer or gymnast or something,” says Fox. “Because my parents were both kayakers, I was actually quite reluctant to do kayaking because it’s a bit lame to do what your parents do at that age! The kayaks would always come with us on holidays and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this’. Eventually, I got on to the whitewater rapids and I was like, ‘Now I get why they love this; it’s good fun and I love the adrenaline rush’.”
As well as having Olympians and world champions for parents, Fox has also been able to personally benefit from the legacies of the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 – not least the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, which staged the canoe/kayak slalom events during the Games and has since become a popular training and recreation facility.
“I train at Penrith where the Sydney Olympics were held, which is an amazing venue,” she explains. “All these years on, it’s in such amazing condition.”
Fox was also given an early taste of international competition when she competed in the 2009 Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) in Sydney – an event that was first held in 2001 as a legacy of the Olympic Games Sydney 2000, inviting athletes from around the world aged from 13 to 19 to compete in a variety of Olympic sports.
“I competed in the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in 2009 and it was pretty exciting,” Fox recalls. “It was good fun; there was an opening ceremony, we stayed in a village and then there was that excitement of the race and the nerves and everything. I think it definitely prepared me well for the Youth Olympic Games. I had an idea of what was going to happen at the Youth Olympic Games in a way because the AYOF set us up well for that and it was really exciting to compete. I loved it in Sydney; it was so much fun and it was a really great event that they put together.”
From watching Sydney 2000 as a six-year-old to training at one of the Olympic venues and competing in an event set up as a legacy of the Games, Fox felt a profound impact on her journey to the YOG and the Olympic podium.
And now the 26-year-old is aiming to add to her incredible Olympic story at her third Games in Tokyo next year, when she will be competing in both the K1 event and, for the first time on the Games programme, the C1 event.
“Being selected for Tokyo is amazing,” she says. “Achieving selection, whether it’s for the first or third time, is always so special. The dream is to achieve Olympic gold, but ultimately, I need to just stay focused on the process and manage both events well. To arrive physically, technically and mentally ready and paddle at my best is something I’ve trained so hard for.”