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Jenny Egan was in a canoe before she was born, this month she'll take another shot at the Olympics

Family ties are helping the record-breaking Lucan woman strengthen for make-or-break qualifiers in Germany.

image2 Jenny Egan started early.

JENNY EGAN’S MOTHER jokes that she’s been afloat in a canoe since before she was born.

It’s that sort of family. The water was never far away and the woman who first picked up a paddle to race competitively at the age of eight has been pushing the boundaries of Irish canoeing ever since.

image4 Jenny Egan Senior Canoe Sprint European Bronze Medallist, Racice, Czech Republic, May 2015, pictured with Dad Tom, brother Peter (one of her coaches) and Mum Angie Egan.

Egan missed out qualification for the London Olympics sprints by one agonising place. Four years on, she’s coming off her best year to date, in the shape of her life and ready to force her way onto a narrow plinth of Olympic kayakers.

“It’s extremely difficult in our sport, unfortunately there are very few places,” Egan, an ambassador for Nissan, told The42 during a hard-earned day off last week.

The 29-year-old will go to Duisburg for her second and final attempt at qualifying for Rio on 18 and 19 May. There, she must earn at least a silver medal in either the K1 200 metre or K1 500 metre races.

“To give you an idea, at the World Championships last year there were 1100 athletes and there’s only 246 quota places available for the Olympics between all continents,” she adds without a hint of trepidation.

Jenny Egan European Podium Jenny Egan European bronze medalist with gold medalist Maryna Litvinchuk of Belarus and silver medalist Irene Burgo of Italy pictured on podium.

Her 2015 season is sending Egan into this summer’s campaign on a crest of wave. At the European Canoe Sprint Championships, she claimed K1 500m bronze — Ireland’s first ever canoeing medal on such a big stage. Come the World Championships in Milan last August, she was ready to put in a career-best performance of 1:52.41 minutes in the same event.

“I produced the best race I’ve ever produced in the 500m. That was a new PB and a new national record but, unfortunately, I had a really hard semi-final draw; the girl who was fifth in my semi was the Olympic bronze medallist, I came in sixth.

“There was nothing more I could have done, that’s probably called the ‘luck of racing’,” she says philosophically, “all of my races last year I was extremely happy with. There’s not a race I would call a bad race. I was very happy with it.”

“Last year was really good for my confidence because I had such a great season over all the distances and to get that European medal was a great confidence-booster, the first one to be won for Ireland at a senior Europeans was great. Something I’m very proud of.”

image5 Jenny Egan Senior Canoe Sprint European Bronze Medallist, Racice, Czech Republic, May 2015.

With a few more career-defining days in Duisburg coming down the tracks fast, the Lucan woman is not only reaching to her form over the past 12 months for confidence but also to gruelling seven weeks of intense training she got under her belt this spring.

Source: Nissan Ireland/YouTube

Seven weeks on from that camp in Florida, which she documented in the grimace-inducing above video, Egan is tapering down her workload. Yet she’s still getting through 15 sessions per week so that she will have plenty in tank for all that is to come after her crucial German races, and before the Olympic Games.

“After the Europeans, I’ve got three World Cup meets straight away, so it’s a really busy time.

“Three weekends in a row of World Cup racing: the first is in Duisburg directly after the European qualifiers, then the weekend after that is Račice, Czech Republic, and then the weekend after that is in Montemor-o-Velho in Portugal.

“So it’s coming into a busy period now, I need to refresh the batteries over this next period now so that I can be nice and fresh to race.”

She doesn’t appear to tire of talking about her sport. Nobody ever asks footballers to explain the offside rule, or golfers to describe what a birdie does to the leaderboard. Some athletes grow weary of explaining the ins and outs of their day-to-day work which may only see a spotlight on a quadrennial basis, and who can blame them.

Egan happily veers off in a sidebar chat to explain that K1 relates single-person kayak races, the lap breakdown of a 5000m race, that wash-hanging is canoeing’s equivalent to cycling in a slipstream… and then what exactly wash-hanging is (it involves paddling slightly behind a competitor so that their wake acts as a wave to push your kayak along). She’s been doing all of this for longer than she can remember.

Jenny Egan and Jon Simmons Jenny Egan with boyfriend Jon Simmons (one of her coaches).

On an almost daily basis, Egan returns to train at the Salmon Leap club in Leixlip, the same stretches of water she learned her trade are now see her push and sweat and graft for even the smallest degree of improvement to compete at the very pinnacle of the sport. Familiarity and family are at the heart of her success.

Peter, Angela, Jenny and Tom Egan Peter, Angela and, right, Tom Egan with Jenny in 2011. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Boyfriend Jonathan Simmons is now based in Ireland, but competes for Team GB’s canoe marathon team, her brother Peter also races to an international standard and father Tom is the Irish canoe team manager. But while there is undoubted praise for Jonathan and Peter who coach her exploits these days, an enormous chunk of gratitude is reserved for Angela Egan who made it all possible.

“My mum has driven me around Europe since I was 14. I wouldn’t have got to go to so many races without her. I used to train before school, she’d take me there and I’d have my breakfast in the canoe club before I went to school.

“I’ve great family support around me. They’re there through the good and the bad, they’re the people who are always there. It’s great to have them around me and understand what I need.

I feel more confident than ever, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I’ve done all I can really and hopefully it will all come together and I’ll have a great race on the day.”

A note from Jenny Egan: I would like to thank my family, coaches and training group together with Salmon Leap Canoe Club, Sport Ireland, the Olympic Council of Ireland, Canoeing Ireland and Canoe Sprint Ireland along with my sponsors Nissan Ireland, ROS Nutrition, Natural Life, UDO’s Choice Ireland, Jantex Professional Paddles, Nelo Kayaks and Sports Therapists Thomas Ronan and Cathal Flynn for their continued support.

Jenny Egan is an ambassador for Nissan Generation Next, which supports Ireland’s next generation of leaders and champions by providing them with a brand, new taxed and insured Nissan car to drive for a year. Applications close 10 May: www.nissangenerationnext.ie

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Sean Farrell

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