Thursday 20 June 2019

After dream season, Egan has medals in her sights in Minsk

Dubliner ready to make a splash at European Games after showing her class at World Cups

Jenny Egan, in action at the 200m canoe sprint semi-finals at the 2015 European Games, will aim to do better in Minsk. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Jenny Egan, in action at the 200m canoe sprint semi-finals at the 2015 European Games, will aim to do better in Minsk. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

She was in a canoe before she was born - no surprise, then, that things turned out as they did. Back in 1987, when Jenny Egan's mother Angie was pregnant with her, she would often take to the water for a paddle with her baby on board.

Growing up in a family enveloped by canoeing, escaping its addictive clutches was always going to be unlikely for Egan, if not straight-up impossible.

And so she embraced it. Dedicated her existence to becoming one of the world's best. Won medals for Ireland at World Cups and World Championships, even if the nature of her sport means the 32-year-old's achievements don't quite resonate with the impact they warrant.

Last August, Egan became the first ever medallist for Ireland at the World Championships in sprint canoeing, a brilliant bronze in the K1 5,000m in Portugal rewarding two decades of hard graft.

"When you eventually achieve a goal you had since you were a child, it tingles down your spine," she says. "It's not just you; it's your family's journey, your club's journey, your country, everyone who has been involved."


Her father, Tom, is the Irish canoeing team manager, while her brother, Peter, competes internationally; her fiancé, Jon Simmons, is also an international canoeist for Great Britain.

Last year was a "dream come true" for Egan, but signs are strong this year that such feats are becoming the norm. In late May she won a silver medal in the women's K1 5,000m at the canoe sprint World Cup in Poznan, Poland and earlier this month she backed it up with K1 5,000m bronze at the World Cup in Duisburg, Germany.

"Every medal is special," she says. "You can never expect things - you just hope to have the best race possible and cross the finish line where you know you've worked hard and done your best."

Process, not outcome - the old gem that sports psychologists drill into professional sportspeople at every turn. It's an attitude that's evident when Egan talks about the upcoming European Games in Minsk, Belarus, where she has one of the best Irish medal chances.

"I hope to feel good, produce the best performances and go across the finish lines knowing I've done my best," she says. "If I do that it'll all come together. I want a good clean race, nothing bad to happen to me or my equipment and to fight all the way to the line and cross in a position I'm really happy with."

Which would be?

"Just that I know I've given it my all," she says with a laugh.

Egan competed at the first edition of the European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2015 and loved every minute of the multi-sport experience - how it shone a light on so many sports that exist in relative obscurity outside the Olympics.

This year's European Games get under way on June 21 and Egan will compete in three disciplines from June 25-27: the K1 200m, 500m and 5,000m.

Only the 200m and 500m are Olympic events for Tokyo 2020, so they've been the primary focus for Egan in training in recent months. A top-five finish will be needed at the World Championships in August to secure an Olympic berth which, if it came, would be a belated tonic for Egan after narrowly missing out in 2012 and 2016.

"London [2012] was heart-breaking," admits Egan, who missed out by a single spot at pre-Olympic qualifying events on both occasions. "But life is a good teacher, that's for sure. I've learned to deal with these disappointments, how to get back on the horse. I always say: live and learn."

Training at the Salmon Leap Club in Leixlip, she's joint-coached by her brother Peter and fiancé Jon, and her sessions come at her not so much in a stream as a gushing torrent. She spends three to four hours a day on the water, another 90 minutes or so in the gym, with 14 to 16 sessions in total each week.

She typically takes to the River Liffey on her canoe by 8am each morning, with the majority of training done with male training partners - readying her for the rigours of world-class competition.

After the European Games she'll have eight weeks to prepare for the World Championships, and Egan will travel to Hungary a few weeks early to complete preparations with the Danish kayak team.

She craves an Olympic place, but time has taught her that it won't define her.

There's lots more to her sport that people don't see, events where Egan is putting Irish canoeing firmly back on the map.

"I love what I do and for as long as you have a passion for it, the results will come," she says. "When you achieve the result and get on that podium, it's magical."

Irish Independent

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