Paddler Joe Clarke's journey back to gold

Joe Clarke has found the secret to success that has powered him back to the Olympic stage: enjoy the ride.

Hurtling down a white water course in a kayak might not sound appealing for most, but the paddler has rekindled his love for the sport after bitter disappointment five years ago coupled with Covid forcing a hiatus from the water.

The 2016 Olympic champion missed out on selection for the Tokyo Games, leaving the 31-year-old reeling as to where to go next.

But Clarke has only gone from strength to strength since, becoming world champion in 2023 to leave his place at Paris 2024 in little doubt.

It means a second Olympic gold medal is once again the target, something no man has achieved in a kayak, with a fresh perspective working as Clarke’s extra weapon to help him make history.

“Achieving what I did in Rio at 23 years old, it felt almost like it came slightly too soon,” he said.

“Your first Games is a learning experience, the second is the one you perform at so to go to your first and win gold, you have almost cheated the system a bit.

“My goal when I was younger was always to become Olympic champion. Then to have achieved that so early on, it was like where do I go from here?

“Then you come crashing down to reality four years later when you miss out on Tokyo. It was tough to pick myself up after that. It has been one hell of a journey.

“As weird as it may sound, Covid may have helped me because it put things into perspective.

“I spent all my life chasing gates down a section of white water, that was my life, that was the way I defined myself.

“Somewhere I got lost in chasing this Olympic dream and gold medal that I lost the enjoyment along the way but it is something I have found again.

“It was only when that real low of missing Tokyo hits that you realise things are a bit tougher and you are asking yourself those questions of if you want to carry on.

“You answer the questions by the enjoyment. I did so well at those Olympics because I was there to enjoy it and soak in the experience, I have got that enjoyment back.”

Clarke’s new perspective has also been moulded by other changes on and off the water.

The addition of a second discipline, kayak cross, means Clarke is now targeting a pair of golds in Paris having won the last three kayak cross world championships.

Clarke’s first kayak cross world title came just over a month after the Tokyo Games, which he watched back at the British Canoeing training centre.

It proved the perfect antidote to the disappointment of missing out, with gold in Bratislava the reaffirmation he needed to throw himself into the next Olympic cycle.

The first phase of that cycle was crowned in style with a double world gold in both kayak and kayak cross in front of a home crowd, something he now believes is a real possibility next summer.

“It was a bit of relief and a page turned, a new chapter when that Games was officially over because it was a case of all being on the same page and all moving forward to the next Olympics,” he admitted.

“A huge motivation for me is the addition of the kayak cross. It is an event that really suits me.

“Up until the world championships, I was always looking at two medals, one of them hopefully being gold was the Paris plan.

“I proved to myself at the home world championships that two golds is possible. That makes it quite exciting, that is the dream and the ultimate goal.”

Sportsbeat 2024