Prospects for Gold: Foxes in tune for slalom run: A husband and wife share the same ambition while showjumpers are left uncertain of their Olympic destiny: Alyson Rudd on the dedicated canoeists whose sport has become a family affair

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THE Foxes used to go canoeing as family recreation but then Richard discovered slalom. Unfortunately not many councils regard a 25-gate, pounding, white-water run with obstacles as a vital amenity and so in order to let Richard pursue the sport, the Fox family became part of it, paddling around the country to the rapids.

Such dedication, from the family who moved from Harpenden in Hertfordshire to Nottingham in order to be near the artificial slalom course at Holme Pierrepont, could pay dividends at the Olympics. Richard Fox, eight times British champion, is a favourite for a medal. His sister, Rachel, is Britain's No 2 and also in the Olympic team. His wife, Myriam Jerusalami, is French champion and in with an excellent chance of success in Spain. Pivotal to it all is father Roger who, as chairman of the slalom committee of the British Canoe Union, has helped to reinstate the canoe slalom as an Olympic event.

Had there been a canoe slalom men's kayak event at the last Olympics, Richard would have been a dead cert. He was world champion in 1989. However, he is now 32 and the rest of the UK and the world is catching up with him.

Rather than viewing the chance to top his career with a gold medal as under threat, Richard believes the added bite of stiff competition is helping his cause. 'In the early Eighties - well, until '87 or '88 - I was winning races and the next best Brit was 10th or so. I think the new competition has motivated me.'

As an old hand (he attended his first world event at 17), Richard finds handling stress and motivation to be the key factors. 'I've been doing it longer so I don't pay attention to small details and that could result in complacency, so you need motivation.'

In fact Richard, who makes his living from promoting the sport, appeared very relaxed on Saturday, competing in a British ranking championship event in Bala, north Wales. This was the last competitive event before the Olympics. It is Bala to Barcelona and then to the event location, La Seod'Urgell, near Andorra.

Everyone knows the Foxes at Bala's national white water centre and everyone knows about the possibility of a dream ticket.

Richard and his wife have both won a World Cup in the same year, both been world champion in the same year, both won Olympic team selection in the same year, so wouldn't it be appropriate for them to win Olympic gold in the same year?

But what if only one partner is successful? Is there never any sulking over the cornflakes? 'Actually I prefer Myriam to do really well because then it is better for me,' Richard said. 'We have lived through every scenario but the best one is a win-win.'

It is difficult to tell who is the more eager for Olympic victory between these partners who not surprisingly spent their honeymoon canoeing along the Grand Canyon. For Myriam the glare of media attention is still on a dimmer switch but brighter than it is for her husband. Even an Olympic gold would not guarantee that Richard Fox would become a household name, but in France there would be great excitement. Myriam is something of a celebrity in her native country with her picture in women's magazines and demand for interviews.

Myriam is also one up on Richard because she qualifies as a state athlete and receives French government funding for her training.

Meanwhile Rachel, 23 and a physiotherapist at the Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, was busy winning the women's kayak event in Bala. She was a little surprised at her success because she thought she might have touched one of the course gates. If any part of canoe, paddle or body makes contact with a gate there is a five- second penalty, which really matters considering a winning time, as in Rachel's case, can be 125 seconds.

It may be a short event but it is packed with stress. The current takes the canoe shooting through one gate but the next gate has to be negotiated against the flow. In a single movement the canoeist has to judge where to turn, exert enormous upper body strength and paddle through the gate without touching it. The most common analogy used is with slalom skiing, although, as all competitors are quick to point out, you can touch the poles in skiing.

On Saturday Richard Fox was beaten into second place by fellow medal hopeful Melvin Jones, Britain's No 2. And in third place? It should come as no surprise to learn that it was David Crosbee. He joins the Foxes in November when he marries Rachel.

(Photographs omitted)

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