Pennie paddles her way back to European crown

20 June 2013 / 18:00

At the Canoe Slalom European Championships in Krakow earlier this month, Scotland’s Fiona Pennie struck gold becoming Women’s K1 European Champion, delivering a career best result at the age of 30.

In fact this is the first European Championship gold medal that GB has ever won in the Women’s K1 and the first Women’s K1 gold in any major international competition since 2004, which explains the magnitude of Fiona’s achievement.

Fiona didn't just win, she destroyed the women's K1 field by a margin of almost four seconds over the second placed athlete, something that is virtually unheard of in a sport where the margins are so tight. Then in the afternoon she teamed up with London Olympian Lizzie Neave and youngster Bethan Latham to take silver in the Women’s K1 Team event to complete a successful European campaign.

It's exactly the confidence booster Pennie needed after missing out on Olympic selection last year, having enjoyed a taste of Olympic action in 2008 in Beijing. Her 2012 disappointment left her devastated and questioning her future in the sport.

"People had been saying to me it's not a question of IF you will win some day it's WHEN you will win," she says.  "However it's been a long time coming and it had become a case of will I win?

"Winning the silver medal in the Worlds in 2006 seems so long ago.  I have had a few World Cup medals and a bronze at the Europeans last year, but it's been a medal here and there without being consistent. 

"So to eventually come out on top at the start of this season has given me the confidence to know that I can do it."

Life has turned full circle for Pennie. She changed coach to work with GB Canoeing's Mark Ratcliffe, who moved down to join her at Lee Valley White Water Centre. She has worked harder than ever for the nine months, and trained with a group of the most talented young men to stay out of her comfort zone.

"I'm approaching my training a little differently in a squad with the young guns of Joe Clarke and Tom Brady," she reveals.

"The boys are faster so you are always chasing the times they are doing and learning from their techniques. 

"The K1 men are always the first to pick up new techniques and try out different things and for me it's good to watch that and try and emulate what they are doing."

There is little doubt its working for Pennie and with the season still quite new and the World Cup series now underway, she is hoping for further success although she knows she can take nothing for granted.

"Canoe Slalom can be such an inconsistent sport when, if the boat is just a few centimetres wrong, then the run can fall apart. 

"That's why you can have Olympic champions coming in way down the field and people who aren't expected to do so well, coming higher up.

"But that's one of the exciting things about the sport. It's one of those sports where anything can happen!"