A week ago, Mallory Franklin was in tears, wracked with doubt about how she would perform. On the evidence of her canoe slalom final today, she needn’t have worried.
A self-confessed perfectionist, she has worked repeatedly on telling herself simply to enjoy her canoeing, and amid the splash of the whitewater there was a serenity to her paddle for silver.
Going sixth from last in the final, she had to wait on a makeshift podium in the gold medal position as each athlete fell short of her time, leaving it to the final competitor, Jessica Fox.
The Australian is the best canoeist of her generation and in this particular Ashes on water, it was the Australian who came out on top, but with a British twist.
Fox’s father Richard was a multiple world champion in the sport for Britain while her mother Miriam, part of the Australian support staff, ended up being thrown into the Kasai canoe slalom waters where her daughter had just won gold amid the celebrations.
Fox was flawless in her run and it quickly became clear she would be too quick for Franklin, who herself made one error in headbutting gate 15 such was the speed she took into the gate. Even without the two-second penalty, it wouldn’t have been quite enough for the gold.
“It’s crazy,” she said of her silver. “I don’t think it’s sunk in, I don’t know when it will sink in, probably about five months knowing me.”
This was a coming out for women’s canoe slalom, the first time the C1 class has been in the Olympic Games and the first time there has been gender parity in terms of the number of gold medals on offer.
Prior to the day’s racing, there was a poignant moment as Haley Daniels, a Canadian paddler and pioneer in pushing such parity, answered questions ahead of the final sat with her transgender father Kimberly, one of the judges at the event. Both talked eloquently about both gender parity and LGBTQ issues beforehand.
Like Daniels, Franklin has pushed the cause of more fairness for women in the sport, sometimes causing a backlash from traditionalists in the process.
The quality of the final was a testament to their push and Franklin said: “It’s really cool that we’re all here and for me personally it’s amazing to have got a medal in it and have that history there as well.”
The build-up to this silver had begun with the first lockdown. When it happened, she pined for the water and for competition but realised it was a needed break, a chance for her to take stock and address the anxiety she had towards racing.
In the aftermath of her Tokyo medal-winning run, she admitted she was in tears before most of her competitions in the past. This time it was different.
She reflected: “Just to be able to sit on that start line and just go and enjoy my paddling and be calm in who I am and it doesn’t matter if I came down and it all went terribly, it doesn’t change who I am. That freedom that it gives me allows me to produce good runs.”
Part of the credit for the change in mentality and emotion she also gave to Adam Peaty and Tom Daley, seeing them around the village and realising that for all their gold-medal heroics they had most likely gone the same mental anguish as her.
It was a first medal by a British canoe slalom athlete since Helen Reeves in Athens in 2004 – her bronze coming in the K1 class, the only discipline previously open to women in canoe slalom at the Games.
Watching Franklin’s run and those that followed her was nerve-wracklingly captivating. Her reward silver and a moment in the spotlight.