Operation allows fresh view of slalom kayaking
FRED WOODCOCK IN LONDON
New Zealand slalom kayaker Luuka Jones has a vastly different view of her second Olympic Games - and not just because she has a “new set of eyes”.
The 23-year-old, who had Lasik eye surgery in April to help her navigate down the course without the rather annoying distraction of having to wipe her eyes, was a fresh-faced teenager in Beijing, lacking experience and preparation and slightly over-awed by the hype. She still managed a creditable 21st in the women's K1 but four years on and there's a quiet confidence born out of maturity, experience, good preparation, and some decent form.
“Beijing was life-changing; it was a real turning-point in my career, a massive learning experience and I've improved so much since then,” the business student from Tauranga said yesterday. “That Olympics was so valuable for me; going into this one, I know what to expect and I'm not getting caught in the hype.”
She hadn't really expected to qualify for Beijing, was only able to get a couple of European campaigns under her belt and couldn't afford to go to the pre-Games training camps, so rolled into China with two weeks to learn the course from scratch. It's completely different this time around.
Jones now has six European campaigns to her name, including the World Cup events in Wales and France last month, and she's spent plenty of time on the Lee Valley course in northeast London. “With everything going on around the place, every time I go out on the course I feel really at home. It's so familiar now.”
This year, she's had financial support from High Performance Sport New Zealand for the first time, which, coupled with assistance of sponsors, has allowed coach Andy Raspin to travel, a luxury for an athlete used to maxing out credit cards and getting by on her Kiwi charm.
Her speed in both World Cup events, in Cardiff and Pau, was excellent, up with the best even, but mistakes, such as the missed gate in Pau, cost her results.
“I was really happy, all of my times were really competitive,” Jones said.
“It was a bit frustrating not to have those results, but I was able to take some confidence from it.”
Also giving her confidence is her “new set of eyes”, courtesy of her sponsors, which has eliminated a serious disadvantage. “I'd worn glasses or contacts while kayaking for years,” she said.
“It was a pain, especially on a big course like this; you get a lot of water in your face and the contacts would actually stick to my eyes. I had to try and wipe my eyes as I was paddling, and when you're trying to focus on the course, the last thing you want is to not be able to see out one eye.”
Jones believes everything has come together nicely, and if she can maintain her speed while eliminating mistakes, a medal is within her grasp.
“I've proven this year that my times are quick enough.
"If I go penalty-free and my races go to plan, it's a possibility.”
The heats in the women's K1 are next Tuesday, with the semifinals and final on August 3.
- © Fairfax NZ News