Q&A Canoeist Jenny Egan: Getting to Rio is the dream
2015 saw bronze, but now Egan needs ‘the best race of my life’ to get to Olympics
Jenny Egan missed out on a medal in Baku by 0.4 of a second. Photograph: Sportsfile
Jenny Egan had the best year of her canoeing career in 2015, becoming the Irish person, male or female, to win a medal at the European Championships when she took bronze in the Czech Republic. Four years ago she missed out on qualification for the London Olympics by one spot – come May in Germany she will attempt to make it to the Rio Games. Egan is 28, a native of Lucan in Co Dublin and a member of the Salmon Leap club in Leixlip, Co Kildare.
How much time did you give yourself off over Christmas?
Well, the plan was just to take Christmas Eve and Day off, but I ended up getting the flu so I had to take a few days more. Athletes are terrible, we get very itchy feet. I’m in the middle of hard winter training now, doing 14 to 16 sessions a week.
A lot of it is land-based – gym, running and swimming. At the end of January I’m off to Florida for a six-eight week training camp with the Danish women’s team, who I’ve trained with before. They have two former world champions, so they’re brilliant to work with.
Your fitness stood to you in the Czech Republic when you had three finals in the one day?
Yeah, I was up really early that day – I had a B final in the 500m first thing in the morning, then two hours after that the B final in the 200m, and then about three hours after that I had the big one, the final of the 5,000m. It was a busy day, but it turned out really good. To go across that finish line and win the first ever medal for Ireland in the Europeans felt amazing. It was so special for myself, but just great for Irish canoeing too – it showed younger people in the sport that Irish people can be on that podium.
An encouraging year, then, real consistency?
I was on cloud nine most of it, to be honest. And it was the consistency that was so encouraging, being up there in the top five or six most of the time. That does a lot for your confidence.
Of course there were one or two close misses too, like in Baku when I was fourth (she missed out on a medal at the European Games by 0.4 of a second), missing a medal at the Worlds by two seconds, and fourth again at the marathon World Championships.
The finest of margins?
They are, but you know if you tweak a few things then it might all come together, and you’ll get on the podium again. But it was a great season, and I finished it off by winning the Liffey Descent and breaking the record with my boyfriend Jonathan Simmons [a canoeist with the British marathon team] – he and my brother Peter coach me.
How tricky is that?
We’re on this journey together. That medal I got last year should be split in five ways – between me, my Mum, my Dad, my brother and my boyfriend.
I haven’t been on funding for the last three years so only for my Mum and Dad supporting me through that, financially and emotionally, and Nissan Ireland sponsoring me, I couldn’t have achieved what I have.
Fingers crossed I’ll be on it this year.
So, Rio is the goal?
It is – but the qualification for canoeing is just criminal. There were over 1,100 athletes at the World Championships last year and only 246 qualify for the sprint competitions in Rio – men and women combined. It’s just a lot harder to qualify from Europe because it’s the strongest continent. I wish it was like swimming or athletics where you do a qualifying time and you’re in, and you have numerous opportunities. For us, we just get two chances, Milan last year [two seconds off a medal] and Duisburg next May – so it’s all or nothing there. There are just two places available in the K-1 500m and two in the K-1 200m. It’s a lot of pressure because you just have to feel so perfect on that day. Fingers crossed I’ll have the best race of my life.
What would it mean to you to make it to Rio?
The thoughts of being an Olympian are what drive me on every day. It would be a shivers-down-the-spine moment. It would mean so much to me and my family. It’s the dream.