Team GB’s Mallory Franklin may not yet be a household name, but come Tokyo 2020, she may well be.
The slalom canoeist is one of the favourites for Olympic gold and she will finally get to see how she matches up against her rivals this week at the European Championships in Italy - her first event in a year and a half.
Canoe slalom tends to pick up quite a following come Games time, with spectators caught up in the thrill of watching athletes kneeling in a boat on unforgiving, unpredictable white water.
K1, K2, C1 & C2
Having won C1 world and European titles, Franklin has a target on her back ahead of the event in Ivrea, but it is something she is trying to use in her favour, despite admitting it is not in her natural character to do so.
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“I'm not massively self-confident,” she told Eurosport.
“I'm trying to develop that belief and understanding of my strengths and my past history and use that a bit more.
Pressure is hard to respond to but I think there are two ways I can try and come at it. If you've got pressure on you, it's because you have a history of doing well and you can use that as confidence.
“People think that I might do well, but that's because I've got a World Championship, a European Championship, so I have to reframe it slightly.
“Rather than it being pressure to do well, it's giving me belief in myself. My only job is to try and enjoy my paddling and enjoy the journey.”
Franklin is 26 but she is already focused on legacy. She is keen to be a role model for women, competing in an event which has only just received gender parity, and to inspire young girls to follow in her footsteps.
It has been a long time since she qualified to compete at the Games in the C1 and her last race was in November 2019, when she took part in an Olympic test event in Tokyo. She is fascinated to see how she matches up against her rivals, having spent the pandemic working hard in the gym to become a stronger athlete and training with the male members of the British squad.
“The main thing I struggled with was not being able to compete and then analyse my performance against others,” she said.
“I ticked that off but then it was like, now what? I'm quite fortunate in that I get to watch some of the best single paddle men in the world and work with them.
“I could go up against them and get some perspective on how to improve, and now I feel more confident - I know that I can get close to them and if I can do that I'm probably in a good place, that's where I've had to get my confidence from.”
Franklin fell into the sport almost by accident. When her brother was three, people who were looking after him asked her parents to find him an outlet for his energy, with Franklin calling him a “headache” in true sibling fashion. They stumbled upon an open day at their local canoe club, and she has been hooked ever since.
This year she will finally get to achieve her Olympic dream, after C1 became an event for female athletes after years of controversy that it had not been.
But when Tokyo 2020 was postponed, Franklin had already been selected and was not sure whether that would still stand. It led to a period of anxiety, but ultimately the team stayed as it was.
“I missed out on kayak selection but got C1, so I had two thoughts in my mind - can I get both again?” she said.
“Part of you is intrigued by that possibility because the opportunity might open up again, but there's also the possibility you lose it all.
It took a while but in the end they just kept the team as it was and that was probably the better decision because mentally, it would have been really, really hard to go through that process again and I would have really struggled.
Franklin admits she does let her mind wander and imagine what it would be like to top the podium in Tokyo, before snapping back into her laser-like focus on getting the most out of herself.
She has been building up to this point for years, so how will she fill the void straight after the Games?
“I'm due to get married in December this year,” she said.
“The original plan was that I have my Olympic year and then get married at the end of the next year, and I can spend the whole of 2021 doing DIY things and really thinking about the wedding.
“Now there's a lot more pressure on the lead up. I'll definitely take time after the Games to focus on that, but it's quite relaxed, planning for a wedding right? We're quite casual.”
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