Jessica Fox on her rapid rise to stardom
JESSICA Fox seemed destined to one day have a paddle in her hand and medals draped around her neck from the moment she was born … but admits she took some convincing.
Her mother, Myriam Jerusalmi, and father, Richard Fox, had been a match made in kayaking heaven.
Champions of the slalom who met while competing for France and Great Britain respectively, both were three-time overall K1 World Cup winners, with 18 world championship gold medals between them - Myriam with eight and Richard with 10.
As you would expect, their eldest daughter has indeed proven a natural at the sport, and with her own skill and determination combining with her genes, she certainly hasn't been left in their considerable wake.
In fact, with two overall World Cup titles and six world championship golds by the age of 21, the French-born Fox now appears certain to surpass even her parents for career performance.
She is favoured to achieve what Myriam and Richard were narrowly denied - becoming an Olympic champion - in Rio next year after taking silver as an 18-year-old in London in 2012.
But while she has kayaking running through her veins, Fox says she wasn't always enamoured of the sport. Instead she was into swimming, gymnastics and athletics. Kayaking, after all, was her mum and dad's thing.
"It definitely took some convincing," she tells ARM. "I was always a bit reluctant to take it up fully. I had grown up around it. My mum was still competing after I was born for a couple of years, and then we moved to Australia when my dad got a job to coach the national team when I was about four.
"I was always hanging out by the riverbank, and then when we'd go on holidays our parents would bring the kayaks. But it wasn't always fun for me."
Fox says she preferred "lounging around the beach ... playing in waves, surfing" with younger sister Noemie.
But, as fate would have it, she began to take paddling more seriously out of necessity after breaking her arm at the age of 11. "My physio actually told me that I should try a bit more kayaking for rehab to strengthen my arm," she said.
Becoming a regular at the White Water Stadium near her family's home in Penrith, Fox befriended girls of a similar skill level.
"When it's just you and your parents it's not as fun as it is when it's you and other people your age," she said.
"I think that's what got me hooked."
It wasn't entirely like a duck taking to water when she first tried the dynamic and testing slalom, in which competitors navigate their way through a course of hanging gates on river rapid.
"There was definitely that fear where you're not sure you can make it down the whole course without falling in," she says.
"I tried to get my roll - which is when you capsize, go under and you come back up, without exiting your kayak - I really tried to master that so that whatever position I fell into the water in I could always come back up.
"There were times when I couldn't and I swam, and that's when I kind of went, 'well, that's the worst that can happen... I'm still here'."
But within four years, aged 15, Fox had made the Australian team, and by 18 had made the world sit up and take notice by finishing second in the K1 at the London Olympics.
Fox now fully appreciates her parents' tutelage, with mum Myriam having doubled as her coach since she made her first national team, and dad Richard now Australia's national performance director.
"To have had their early guidance meant I had quite a good technique from the very start rather than having to reconstruct it under someone else further down the track," she says.
"And obviously I've been able to hear about their experiences in the sport and in competitions."
As well as the kayak, Fox has mastered the canoe, having won three consecutive C1 slalom world titles - in Prague (2013), Deep Creek Lake (2014) and London (2015) - matching her dad's effort from 35 years earlier. She also two C1 team golds (2013, 2015) with Ros Lawrence and Alison Borrows.
But gender equality has not quite caught up with the Olympics and the C1 will not be part of the women's program at the Games until 2020 in Tokyo, so Fox is focused on the K1 next year.
Having claimed gold in the event at the 2014 world championships, doubling up with her C1 win, and finishing second this year to Jasmin Schornberg from Germany, no longer will she be the "dark horse" as she was in 2012 when finishing 0.6 of a second behind Frenchwoman Emilie Fer.
"I was not disappointed at all, to be honest," she said of finishing second in London. "It never even crossed my mind to be upset with my racing.
"I came into into those Olympics as a dark horse in a way. I knew top five was within reach and a medal could be.
"But, at the end of the day, I just wanted to make the final and when I crossed the line I was really happy with that (time) no matter what the result.
"It was my first Olympics and I delivered my best.
"You do look back on it and go 0.6 of a second is nothing ... I could've won the gold. But I wasn't ready."
She is now.
After the nationals in early January, Olympic trials will be held in February, with just one Aussie female selected.
"I'm in a different position now, but I think I have the experience to deal with that pressure," she says.
"For me the focus is just to put down my best paddling and be confident in my ability and my training; hopefully get that spot for Rio and from there I can really focus on the Olympics."
With Myriam having claimed a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and Richard's best Olympic finish a fourth in Barcelona in 1992, no doubt they would love to see their daughter go further and claim gold.
"Winning the three world titles in C1 has been really special," she says.
"But the Olympics are something else. It is the pinnacle of our sport."
A1 in the K1 and C1
THERE are subtle differences between the K1 (kayak) and C1 (canoe) competition events, apart from the slight variation of the boats' design.
Fox explains: "In the K1 I'm seated with a double-bladed paddle. Generally that one is faster, more dynamic. I tend to use a lot more power and energy, because I've got both blades.
"The C1 is single-blade in a kneeling position. Because I've only got the one blade I tend to use the water a lot more, use the features of the river, really maximise the power of the water.
"I love the kayak because it's very competitive and obviously it's at the Olympics. The C1 is a fresh challenge … I've surprised myself in the C1."
Feeling for France
HAVING been born in Marseilles, France is still a home away from home for Fox, who travels back each year.
"I obviously cherish my roots. It's important to see the family ... and keep up the French."
She was understandably left shaken by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. "We feel thankful that our loved ones are okay when so many people were not so lucky," she said.
Making a splash
FOX has put kayaking/canoeing firmly back in the public eye through her exploits on the water, appearing on TV shows such as Sunrise.
"Everything's just a changed a little bit in the last couple of years, but it's been great," she said.
"I think it's been important for, I guess, my profile but also the sport. It's been great to have a bit more coverage ... to see people starting to understand the difference between rowing and kayaking."
FOX admits she's "not very religious", but has become somewhat of a poster girl for the Jewish community.
With the connection to her Jewish mum, Fox was presented with Maccabi's Most Outstanding Jewish Sportsman of the Year award in 2014.
"It's nice to have their support," she says. "It was unexpected. I didn't even know it was there."