Rugby’s Olympic canoeist Kimberley Woods has vowed she will ‘learn lots’ from her final disappointment and will be back to challenge at the very top of her sport again.
It was a fantastic achievement for her to reach the women’s K1 Olympic final in Tokyo as one of the top ten slalom canoeists in the world.
But after her excellent performance in the semi-final, where her clean run of 109 seconds was good enough for sixth spot, it all went wrong for Kimberley on her final paddle at the Kasai Centre on Tuesday and ended in tears of frustration.
And speaking to the media immediately afterwards she said: “I’m feeling really disappointed with how I’ve paddled in that final. It’s not me, but I’m still young.
“I’m 25, it is my first Olympic Games and I’ve still got a lot of experience.
“I’m just a little bit disappointed in myself and sad I couldn’t make everyone at home happy and bring home a medal.
“Some of the pressure did get to me. I really try and absorb that on the start line.
“I was in really good shape. I felt so confident in myself. It’s the tiny mistakes and thoughts of people back at home that were coming in.
“I haven’t been in that situation before. I am a paddler that goes all in.
“I didn’t want to leave anything out there. I did go out of the blocks hard and the early penalty proved it. I just couldn’t get back into the rhythm of it, but I would’ve regretted not going fully in.
“My semi-final was my first clean run of the whole season, I’m used to getting penalties. But it’s the little mistakes and dropping low. Little things I knew weren’t good enough to win a medal.
“I will be back. We’ve still got races this season, a World Championships. I’ve definitely proven I’m up there with the top girls. It’s going to be hard but I’m going to learn lots from this race being in this position.”
And as the BBC commentators pointed out, canoeing is such an unforgiving sport, with precision and luck needed in bucketfuls - and the difference between speed and disaster balanced on a knife-edge
Kimberley caught gate 4 at the top of the course, picking up a two-second penalty and piling on the pressure to make up time after Spain’s Maialen Chourraut had set the early pace on 106.63. Needing to pick up speed she touched gate 12 and knew her chance of a medal was slipping away.
It meant she missed gate 17, incurring a 50-second penalty and as she made her way to the finish, a last touch on gate 24 completed the agony for the 25-year-old who started her career as an eight year old with Rugby Canoe Club.
It all added up to leave Kimberley in tenth place, on 177.09.
Commentators knew she would be absolutely gutted with that run, as she was capable of so much more, but reminded viewers she is a superb paddler with plenty of time still ahead of her.
Germany’s Ricarda Funk won gold in 105.56, Chourraut silver and Australia’s Jessica Fox bronze in 106.73, including four seconds of penalties.
The day had started so well for the former Rugby College student, who qualified for the final in sixth place.
She was the 16th canoeist of 24 to start in the semi-final, having finished eighth in the heats, with the pressure of knowing only the top ten would go through to contest the medals.
Kimberley’s clean run in 109 seconds was the quickest at that point, attracting huge praise from BBC commentators for her powerful run, looking very composed, solid and in control.
Commentators also reminded viewers how Kimberley, with three world championship and 11 European medals to her name, has been a tough talent from a young age, inspired by her aunt Diane Woods who was a junior world championship medallist.
Kimberley had also had two excellent runs in Sunday’s heats when she qualified in eighth place in both.
In the first she clocked 107.63 but picked up a two-second time penalty for 109.63.
Her second was a speedy 103.82 with four seconds of time penalties for 107.82.
So with time to reflect, Kimberley should be extremely proud of her Olympic performances. Finishing tenth in the final as one of the world’s top canoeists may not be exactly what she wanted, but all her supporters at home will also be very proud of her achievements in Tokyo and can look forward to her bouncing back and being stronger for the experience.