If you needed to see what her historic selection for the Australian Olympic team meant to Jessica Fox, who is to the sport of paddling what Don Bradman is to cricket, Pele to football, and Muhammad Ali to boxing, it showed upon her being presented the gigantic boarding pass Aussie athletes receive when they’re selected for the nation’s Olympic team.
With Sydney’s glorious harbour as the backdrop, the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) announced the 29-year-old’s selection to compete in the C1 and K1 events, in which she won gold and bronze respectively at Tokyo 2020.
Fox, whose resilience, winning spirit, and incredible skill has guided her to an Olympic gold medal, a silver and two bronze Olympic medals, 10 individual canoe world championship titles and 11 world cup gold medals, conceded her selection for a fourth Olympic campaigns – the most by an Aussie canoe slalom competitor – was ‘emotional.’
“It feels real . . . it feels very special,” said the New South Wales Institute of Sport scholarship athlete who is one of only 4315 Australians to have represented the country at the Olympics since Edwin Flack competed at the 1896 Athens Games.
“And I almost got a little bit emotional there when you [Chef de Mission for the 2024 Australian Olympic Team, Anna Meares] passed me my boarding pass, my ticket to Paris. It’s really special to be here.”
Fox was eligible for an early nomination because of her outstanding success at the recent World Cups and World Championships staged in Europe. The canoe slalom competition begins on July 27, with Fox one of the favourites to add another gold to her collection of precious metal.
“It was one of my big goals this year to earn early selection,” said Fox. “To try and meet that criterion to be selected early because it just allows me more freedom and more time to prepare without having to try and taper and be fresh for those selection races.
“I can train through it and use it as an exercise and really plan now for Paris – those 263 days! It gives me that freedom to work hard knowing I ticked the box.”
Fox, who was born in the French port city of Marseille, said competing for Australia in the land of her birth added to the excitement of her fourth Olympic campaign.
“There’s a bit of a Marseille-Paris rivalry,” she laughed of wanting to shine in the French capital. “But it’s very special because it’s the first time I’ll have friends and family in France be able to see me compete. It will be special to be a part of the Games.
“I’ve seen some of the plans. I’ve seen some of the ways they want to make these Games combine sport, history and culture and make it a really good show for the athletes. It brings all of France together, so it will be special.”
And in what could be interpreted as a warning for her rivals, Fox said despite her incredible success, she remains hungry for even more triumphs.
“I achieved that gold medal dream in Tokyo,” she said. “I won the world titles . . . ticked all the goals I’ve wanted to achieve in my sport. That 10th world title is a lovely round number – I love that – but I think I’m still hungry for more because I feel like I can keep improving, and I love what I do.”
Fox offered a heartfelt thanks to her mother – and coach – Myriam (who won an Olympic bronze for France in 1996), her father Richard (a Great Britain Olympian) and younger sister Noemie, who is in contention to represent Australia at Paris.
“I’m very lucky to have my family and to be guided by them,” Fox said. “Mum is my coach, but dad is also there to ask how training was or to give me advice around the competitions and I think they’re two very passionate, incredible role models for my sister and I.
“I think even my sister, she inspires me daily and I train with her daily, so I’m very lucky to have them as part of my life and part of our sport, nationally and globally.”
Meares congratulated Fox on her selection, noting her leadership qualities were as important to the team as the traits that have made her canoe slalom’s most decorated athlete of all time.
“Making one Australian Olympic Team is a rare and special feat – to achieve this four times is truly special,” said Meares, who is Australia’s most decorated Olympic cyclist.
“It’s a testament to the work Jess puts in on the water, in the gym and in the small details honing her craft to stay at the absolute peak of her sport for more than a decade.
“Jess epitomises so much of what is special about Olympic sport, and her outstanding results are just one part of it. Jess is a leader on and off the water, and a valuable member of both the AOC’s and International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commissions.”
And it was fitting for Fox, who struck a mighty blow for gender equality in sport at the Tokyo Olympics, that the kids at Ropes Creek Crossing Public School who named one of their Sport Houses in her honour, were mentioned by Meares as just some of the children who Jess has inspired.
“It’s such an honour to know that young boys and girls look up to me, and Australian athletes all across the country doing what we do,” said Fox. “We’re representing our country to the best of our ability. We’re working hard.
“Being a role model, I think you realise the influence that you can have in your community to inspire, to get people active, and work on their physical and mental wellbeing and challenge themselves and set goals and chase those goals.
“I take that very seriously and I’s a big honour. Anna [Meares] mentioned Ropes Crossing Public School that have me as their Fox [Sports] House. Things like that . . . it’s so surreal to me.”
Paddle Australia President, Olympian Andrew Trim said having an athlete qualify for a fourth Olympic Team was a truly remarkable achievement.
“The Paddle Australia family and the wider paddling community all stand united and sincerely congratulate Jess today on her fourth Olympic Games selection,” said Trim. “Supporting Jess to become the world’s best paddler and person is a privilege.
“As an individual athlete Jess exemplifies everything we aspire for. Preparing for an Olympic Games takes careful planning and when you are a world’s best athlete like Jess is, to have selection achieved as early as possible has its advantages. Jess, Myriam, and the wider performance support team can look forward with a clarity of purpose and make performance decisions that will help her best prepare.
“For everyone at Paddle Australia it is an honour to work with Jess and the Australian Olympic Committee on our team’s journey to Paris.”
Daniel Lane, NSWIS
Photo: Frances Cordaro, NSWIS