Fiona Pennie remembers it well but would rather forget. The moment in the spring of 2012 when she stood sobbing in the privacy of the locker room at Lee Valley, Britain’s top-ranked kayaker condemned to the outside of London’s Olympics after her hopes were sunk in the qualification series.
Having underachieved – her words – in Beijing four years earlier, she had craved the chance of redemption. Two races, two frenetic paddles downstream, and it had all been for nothing.
“But I still had to race the third to make it back into the GB squad,” the 32-year-old from Dumbarton recounts.
“The third day didn’t go well either but I’d had some bonus points carried forward from World Cup races which saved the day. I was really down. It took a lot of picking up from various people around me, like the team psychologist and my coach at the time.”
The healing process was prolonged, the wounds deep, the scars visible. Creditably, she threw herself back into the fray to take a medal at the subsequent European Championships.
Her resilience is unquestionable, and she will return to the scene of her harshest hour today with no sense of trauma weighing her down.
Pennie is among four Scots in the British team for a world championships to be held on the same white water as London 2012, with Olympic silver medallist David Florence among the loudest victory shouts. In the main, the event offers the prize of places in Rio. For the hosts, there is again the torture of qualifying next month before the squad for Brazil is confirmed. “It means we have two big things in one season: and they’re not too far apart,” Pennie says. “It added a little pressure. We have a world championships. But then there’s Olympic selection.”
Her form has ebbed and flowed like the tides this season. Adjustments have been made accordingly. Ensuring the British team lands a full complement of Games places should be no trouble. It is the internal tussle which is of greater intrigue. “Going on, I want to go to 2016 as badly,” she confirms. “Although it makes it easier after sitting out one because I know I’ll be ok. It’s not life or death.”
An accomplished hockey player, Pennie has regularly ventured beyond the bubble that encircles any elite sportswoman. Recently, she snared a paddock pass for the British MotoGP at Silverstone, studiously observing the rituals of lapping at a much higher speed. “You can relate to how the riders are when they sit in their garage, thinking of the race. Most of the world think they’re doing nothing but I can feel them focusing on what’s coming up.”
Her own race is not yet done. Too much water under the bridge to easily walk away, even if Rio remains out of reach. “I have no idea whether I’ll carry on or not,” she asserts. “I’ll get a clue from how next year goes but I feel I’ve still got life in me yet.”