14 July, 2024
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Canoe superstar Fox riding emotions en route to Paris

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Like the rapids she regularly conquers, Paris Olympics triple gold-medal threat Jessica Fox has recently faced some turbulent times. 

Australia’s star slalom-canoeist last week watched her younger sister Noemie become the latest member of the Fox family to qualify for the Olympics, but later that evening was shattered by the death of grandfather Roger Fox.

Roger started his son Richard in the sport in England, with his charge becoming a 10-time world champion who narrowly missed a kayak (K1) medal at the 1992 Olympics, finishing fourth.

An iconic figure in British and world paddling, Roger watched his granddaughters at last year’s world championships in England and had booked tickets for the kayak-cross in Paris in the hope Noemie might qualify to race alongside Jessica.

Three years younger, Noemie has long been a world-class paddler but until the addition of the new kayak-cross event, Australia’s sole women’s slalom selection spot at recent Games had gone to Jessica, a four-time Olympic medallist who won canoe (C1) gold in Tokyo three years ago.

Jessica Fox at Australia's Olympic team announcement.
 Jessica Fox will represent Australia at a fourth Olympic Games in Paris. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

“We’ve had emotional highs and lows in the last two weeks,” 30-year-old Jessica said. 

“My grandpa was one of our biggest fans – he was always following us closely, watching live results or at the events.

“What was really beautiful was that he knew that Noemi had qualified before he passed away, so it gave us some joy and some peace knowing that he knew.

“He would have been so proud and so happy knowing she had achieved that dream.

“It’s devastating knowing he won’t be there in Paris but he’ll have front row seats and he’ll be with us, cheering us on from from up there.”

While the Fox family is in mourning, Jessica described watching Noemie try to qualify for Paris as like winning her Olympic gold medal. 

Her heart rate climbed to 185 beats per minute – the same as when she races.

Noemie Fox.
 Noemie Fox has followed the family tradition by qualifying for the Paris 2024 Games. Image by HANDOUT/PADDLE AUSTRALIA 

“It was probably up there with winning the Olympics for me, it was one of the best days of my life,” Jessica, who has moved her training base to the Paris course, said.

“It was so challenging as there were only three quota spots available and in the kayak-cross a lot can happen, a lot can go wrong.

“I’ve never been so nervous … my heart rate when she was racing was 185 which is nuts.

“In the final, when she came out of the last upstream gate I was just screaming, I lost my voice afterwards, and crying because she had done it.

“It was just so much emotion and joy and love and happiness for her achieving that dream.”

The pair’s mother Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi competed in two Olympics for France, claiming K1 bronze in Atlanta in 1996, and now coaches her daughters.

Father Richard was a national coach in Australia, and at the Tokyo Games commentated on Jessica’s gold medal-winning run.

Jessica said having the entire family involved in Paris would be extra special.

“At the Games all together is a dream come true,” she said.

“Being able to do that with my sister, who has been a training partner, a competitor, best friend – but also she’s been on the sidelines.

“She’s been watching the Games, she’s worked at the Games, she’s been a volunteer, a spectator, she’s done everything else except be the athlete. 

“To be able to share that together is going to be incredible. It’s really beautiful to be able to celebrate that as a family.”

Jess Fox and mum at Tokyo 2020.
 Jessica Fox, with mother and coach Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi, after winning gold at the Tokyo Games. Image by Joe Giddens/AAP PHOTOS 

Jessica won an unprecedented three gold medals at the most recent World Cup event, in Poland – the perfect platform to launch into Paris.

The haul, coming off the back of Noemie’s triumph and her grandfather’s death, also solidified her belief that emotionally she can deal with whatever her fourth Games threw at her.

“In Krakow (for the World Cup) I felt emotionally drained – it was a really massive weekend of joy and love for Noemi qualifying, and then there was also the devastation of losing our grandpa and the emotions around that,” she said.

“(It was) a really good exercise in learning how to manage that and stay focused and be able to compartmentalise and get the job done, regardless of how I was feeling on the day.

“You’ve got to learn to dig deep, find that inner strength and manage those emotions.”

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