A gold medallist at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, Australia’s Jessica Fox won a canoe slalom silver when she made her Olympic debut at London 2012. She now has her sights set on gold in Rio.
For 22-year-old canoe slalom specialist Jessica Fox, her hunger for experience has been key to her success to date.
When she arrived at London 2012, fresh out of school, at the age of just 18, she might easily have been overwhelmed by her Olympic debut.
However, having already won gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore two years earlier, the French-born Australian took it in her stride, and won a surprise silver medal in the Kayak K1. She has since gone on to claim six world championship golds, in 2013, 2014 and 2015, meaning that she will travel to Rio among the favourites for her events. And she believes that her YOG experience has played a huge part in that.
“Nothing really prepares you for an Olympics,” she says. “You don’t understand the crowd, the transport, the Village – you don’t get that anywhere else.
“So the YOG really gave us that. I saw a lot of young athletes who were really overwhelmed in London but for me, it was just a bigger version of the YOG.
“I really felt it got me ready for it, and that’s something that is really valuable.”
Two years after London, Jess returned to the YOG in Nanjing in 2014 but this time, as an ambassador.
She says she is looking forward to seeing two generations of young athletes from the 2010 and 2014 YOG at Rio.
“It was really inspiring to be an ambassador and being in a different role,” she adds.
After qualifying for Rio 2016 back in February, Jess has focused on getting as much time on the water as possible to build on all of her experiences so far.
With just eight weeks until the Opening Ceremony, she recently competed in the World Cup in Spain, winning another silver. Earlier this month, she won gold at the World Cup in Italy.
“A lot of Olympic athletes don’t do all the World Cup races, but I decided I wanted to really keep learning from each race and get that experience,” she explains. “I wanted to see how I was tracking at these races.
“I’m really happy with how it has gone so far. I think I can be confident in my preparations.”
She added other athletes might be concerned about damaging gear or missing out on block training.
“The challenge of racing on a new river is important to me,” she says. “It’s important to me to get the racing experience.”
Jess has already endured a few challenges during her training camps at the Rio 2016 Games venue, none more so than on her recent visit, in which she had an allergic reaction to ant bites and snapped her only paddle, having lost her canoe in transit. What’s more, her training team’s car broke down between the hotel and the stadium.
“I’m just glad it happened then rather than during Games times,” she says.
“That’s why we go to these training camps; it helps us to get a feel for the venue, and to prepare for any eventualities.”
Like fellow YOG graduate Jiri Prskavec, she has nothing but praise for the Rio venue, adding that she believes it will be well suited to her style of paddling.
“It’s quite fast and it’s got a big drop down the bottom for when you’re tired,” she says. “The challenge will be to stay on form down there.”
Going into Rio 2016, Jess faces a new set of challenges. For all her experience on the water, as world number one, she faces greater pressure and attention than she did as a teenager in London.
“In London, I was 18 and just out of school. I was just super excited to be there,” she says.
“Winning the medal was a bit of a surprise – it was more of a dream come true. For me, the goal was to make the final because I knew that once I was in the final, anything could happen.
“This time, it’s different because people know who I am. There’s obviously more pressure. From a mental perspective, it’s required me to know how to deal with that.”
And while Jess leads the rankings for the time being, she will also have to watch out for another newcomer: her younger sister Noemie.
The 19-year-old has joined Jess in following their parents’ footsteps – both of who competed in Olympic canoeing - and mum now coaches both Jess and Noemie.
Noemie made her first senior team this year, and Jess was on hand to commentate on her bronze-winning World Cup C1 performance.
“It’s been really nice to have her with me on tour,” Jess says. “I was commentating live and I had to control my emotions! She will be one to watch behind my back.”
Meanwhile, Jess said she was excited to see those who competed in Singapore with her in 2010, as they carry the Olympic Movement’s message to young athletes on the main Olympic stage.
“We had this saying with the YOG ambassadors that our role was to ‘inspower’ – a combination of inspire and empower – and that’s really stayed with me,” she adds.