Scot Fiona Pennie out to complete road to redemption

Fiona Pennie during training for the Rio Olympics at the Lee Valley White Water Centre in London last month. Picture: Getty
Fiona Pennie during training for the Rio Olympics at the Lee Valley White Water Centre in London last month. Picture: Getty
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From Crieff to Copacabana, Fiona Pennie has taken a road less paddled on her journey towards Olympic redemption. A route that, to her unfathomable chagrin, evaded London in 2012, but has now led her to Rio.

Eight years after going to her maiden Games in Beijing, the slalom kayaker has waited what feels like an age to return to the stage she covets most. It is an opportunity she plans to grasp in both hands.

A European champion just months after she was left distraught by missing out on London selection in a three-race qualification weekend on the course where she trains every day, Pennie underlined she will be a contender in Deodoro next week having won world silver in 2015.

The mental scars of four years ago have not completely been healed. The focus, however, is resolutely on what might be possible and how it might be acquired. With sports psychologists in her support crew, the mantra has been to visualise every twist and every turn. So there must have been numerous occasions when she has allowed her mind to drift towards standing tall on the podium?

“Probably not that many times actually,” she says. “Because it is something that will happen if it happens. 
You don’t really think about what will happen if you were to win. You have seen what it is like, having watched Tim (Baillie) and Etienne (Stott) winning in London and we saw close hand what they were doing.

“Every day there were new pictures and things that they had done. So you kind of imagine what that would be like but actually being on the podium is something that will only happen if it happens.”

Beijing seems an age ago. She was one for the future then, taken as much to further her education as with expectations of a medal.

The races themselves, when she finished 17th following a devastating error on her opening run, have long been supplanted by more rapturous rides.

“Yet there is nothing that can compare that very first moment when the reality of becoming an Olympian hits home.

“Of course it was a great experience to be on the start line,” she says. “I did go to the opening ceremony. There was quite a long wait beforehand when you are waiting to go into the stadium.

“Then, when you march in, and you are going through the tunnel with rest of the team. There is the opening at the end of the tunnel, you look out and all you see is like a sea of lights and people, far off at the other side, and people hanging 
over the tunnel, looking 

“It was quite awesome, really. Then when you are marching round, all sides are full of people.

“I guess that is something that some sports experience every time they go out to compete, but for us it was quite something and come our race it wasn’t quite as big an audience but still something different to what I am used to.”

Pennie will feel much more emboldened second time around. More able to deal with the K-1 competition and the obstacles placed in her path than she was in China.

“Since then I have had many good results and experienced life higher up. It is not so much the athlete I was in 2008 
it is what I have done since then.”