The respect Jess Fox commands in the sport of canoe slalom was clear to see following her gold-medal winning performance.
- Fox won gold at her third Olympics
- She won bronze in the canoe slalom K1 event after entering the final as favourite
- Fox has four medals in her collection across her three Games appearances
The small crowd in attendance at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre on Thursday spontaneously stood and applauded when the Australian finally won Olympic gold, a mission she set herself back in London 2012 and took almost a decade to achieve.
It was not the capacity crowd the women’s C1 final deserved — a couple of hundred people at best — but there were Germans, Brazilians, Brits, Austrians, Italians, Czechs and others who, although divided by nationality, were unified in celebrating an all-time great of the sport they love.
Fox’s place in history is now cemented in a way that will be talked about forever. It is the first time women have been able to compete in the C1 canoe slalom division because until now they — unlike male competitors — had been limited to kayaks.
The past two days since she won bronze in the K1 canoe slalom have been a roller-coaster ride for Fox, who is normally so calm and in control to the point you wonder if she has a heartbeat at all.
Exactly 48 hours ago, she was expected to win gold in the K1 to complete her Olympic collection following a silver in London 2012 and a bronze in Rio 2016.
But it was not to be. It was a second bronze.
Even her mother Myriam, a long-time Australian coach and an Olympic bronze medallist for France, started wondering if a gold medal was going to elude her daughter, like some of the other sporting greats who win everywhere and everything except at the Olympics.
But Fox turned up at the course on Thursday ready to take what many believed was rightfully hers.
She was focussed, if maybe a little nervous, with an uncharacteristic vomit behind a tent shortly before she tackled the course.
The last thing she said to her mother was: “I feel really good, but I just threw up, so it’s OK, I’ll be alright.”
Mother and daughter then “fist-bumped”.
Kneeling in her canoe, with the one-bladed paddle being thrown from one side to the other, Fox twisted and contorted like a gymnast.
She picked up speed like Usain Bolt the further she went and then furiously paddled across the finish line in 105.04 seconds.
Great Britain’s silver medallist Mallory Franklin was more than three seconds adrift, with Germany’s Andrea Herzog a further three seconds back.
It was a master class from Fox. No wonder everyone clapped.
“Relief, pure joy, it’s all the emotions today,” Fox said when asked to describe the moment.
“It was such a massive 48 hours after the kayak event.
“There’s a lot of emotion involved, and it was … taxing mentally, emotionally and physically.
“I’m thrilled to come back from that … and win.”
Fox rises above challenges
With a bag-load of world titles and international recognition as the best paddler in the world, it is difficult to know why winning an Olympic race proved to be so different to other competitions prior to Thursday.
Essentially, it is the same distance and takes around the same amount of time.
“I think … we’re in a really tough sport where the conditions can change, where the white water is physically challenging, where there are tactical decisions to be made,” Fox said.
“So it doesn’t always go to plan and when you have the Olympics, the hype and the emotions, and stress and pressure, and what it means, it’s very hard sometimes to race naturally.
“To come back from the kayak, when I had conflicting emotions of ‘Wow, you’re on the podium, it’s amazing, you could have been fourth’, to ‘oh my goodness, you were so close to the gold’, and then reliving that race, to come back in the C1 was really challenging.
“I kept thinking ‘Gosh how do the swimmers do this when they’ve got five events’ … so I really had to tap into that mental work that we’ve all had to do in the last five years and I’m really, really proud with how today turned out.”
Fox’s mother, dripping wet from being thrown into the water as part of the post-race celebrations, was thrilled for all the women who made history on Thursday.
But, naturally, Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi was particularly excited for her daughter she has been training for a lifetime.
“We knew she could do it, but it was a little bit of a roller-coaster these last few days,” she said.
“It’s an historical moment for the girls in our sport, so I’m so happy for the girls in general … and of course I’m happy that Jess has been rewarded with that gold medal.
And does Myriam feel like it is her gold medal too?
“Definitely, oh my God, definitely,” she said.
There will no doubt be some well-deserved partying going on back in the athletes’ village.