Simpson builds on a British tradition

Nick Harris on the canoeist who has a passion to succeed at the highest level
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The Independent Online
One Olympic sport has brought Britain arguably more international success in the past 20 years than any other: the canoe slalom. Lynn Simpson, the present world No 1, hopes to maintain the tradition when she goes to Atlanta as one of Britain's great gold medal hopes.

British canoeists have won a medal in every major international since 1977. Simpson won an individual gold at last year's World Championships, in Nottingham, and a silver with the women's team. The British junior champion at 17, she is at present ranked joint No 1 in the world.

"I have a great passion for what I do. I love it," she said. "I'm confident about my ability and recent results have been encouraging."

A twice-daily training regime, along with successful preparatory trips in the United States and Europe, have put her in good spirits for Atlanta. "I am a bit nervous but I'm not going out there just to walk around in a tracksuit. I'm going to compete."

Born in Scarborough in 1971, Simpson started canoeing at the age of eight. Her dedication to the sport has been total. "I am a professional and I train every day of my life," she said. "I prepare just as well as Linford Christie."

In the Olympics, the canoeists will make two trips down the 700-metre course. They will be penalised five seconds for hitting a gate or, worse, 50 for missing one. "One good run is all it takes. Fast and clean is the canoeist's motto," Jo Mulholland, Simpson's publicity manager, said.

Dedication to practice is as keen as in any other event, as Simpson pointed out. "Hopefully I can change people's perceptions a bit and get them more interested in it," she said.

The discipline has not attracted much media attention over the years, and hence the fact that participants have often had to struggle, financially as well as physically, to stay in the sport.

Simpson lives on a grant from the Sports Foundation and support from her kit and kayak sponsors. She has also managed to combine her sporting achievements with academic success.

"Lynn was a bright kid and wanted to go to a good university," Mulholland said. "She also wanted to keep up with her canoeing." She therefore went to Nottingham University, where she gained a 2:1 in Economics.

Still based in the city, Simpson lives close to the Holme Pierrepont National Watersports Centre, the focal point of British canoeing since its construction in 1986.

During a selection race for the British team before last year's World Championships, she incurred a 50-second penalty for missing a gate. She knew she faced elimination from the squad unless her next race was near- perfect.

"I thought about what really mattered to me," she said, "and it wasn't about money or the financial support I get. It was about me wanting to go to the World Championships and having a chance of winning." In her final race to impress the selectors, she cruised through, then went on to win the gold.

And her chances of a repetition in Atlanta? "Probably as good as they're going to get in my career. I'm in form, but then it all goes on what happens on the day. I'll be trying my best."