Olympic fever is about to hit the world as the Games start in just under two months’ time with the opening ceremony taking place on July 23rd, 2021 in the host city of Tokyo, Japan.
Mallory Franklin will be representing Team GB in canoeing, and it will be her first ever Olympics, but her friends and family will have to rely on technology to support her, something her fiancé is definitely taking in his stride by planning to live on Japanese time while staying in the UK.
These Olympics will look very different to ones that have come before it – empty stadiums, Covid restrictions and taking place a year later than scheduled - but this has only helped Franklin by giving her more time to train and work on herself, both physically and mentally.
Franklin spoke about her lockdown experience, how it felt to be back on the water when restrictions were eased and revealed where she keeps her medals and why...
How did you get into canoeing and was it what you wanted to do when you were younger?
I started canoeing when I was five, so definitely something from when I was younger! My older brother was a little bit of an active kid and needed something to use up some of his energy, so his teachers encouraged my parents to try and get him into something.
So, we went to our local leisure centre, and they had loads of activities and none really took our fancy but right next door to the leisure centre is our local canoe club, and they had an open day, so they had all their boats out, a barbeque, it was a really nice sunny day, and it was just like come and try it, have fun and get on the water. We saw that and went down to it and got on, enjoyed it and pretty much never stopped.
How did you adapt your training in lockdown?
We were really, really fortunate, we’ve got quite a lot of support around us. Obviously, our gym was based in our training centre and basically staff members just distributed that kit across the athletes, prioritising the Olympic athletes as well so I was fortunate in that sense.
I ended up with a bench press in my lounge for the whole of lockdown and quite luckily had a chin bar anyway that my other half had so I basically had a really good gym set up which helped massively, and I really tried to use that time when I couldn’t be on the water to try and just build my strength.
A lot of times when we’re training, we obviously have to prioritise our water training and that side of it and you’re trying to do gym around that, and it was actually quite nice to be able to just be like well I can do gym and try and use this period to get strong. But it was definitely really weird, and I really didn’t enjoy the period completely off water.
I’ve been paddling since I was five and the longest I’ve had is maybe three weeks from an injury or something, but to have that absolute period completely off anything was really, really hard. But I definitely think because a lot of my motivation comes from pushing myself to be better all the time actually losing the water, I was like okay what can I now? I can work on myself physically; I can work on myself mentally and try and sort those bits out while I can’t be on the water anyway. It was weird but I think it was actually good for me, weirdly.
What was it like when you were allowed back on the water to train?
I think once you’ve paddled for 25 years of your life, then having three months off, wait no, I have no idea how long we had off! It’s probably a good sign if I can’t remember. But having paddled for so much of my life, I got back on the water, and I had one session where it was like just go and play and enjoy being on the water again and get used to the intricacies and that kind of stuff. But it was actually really nice, I really, really enjoyed being back on the water and I was almost back to that kid that fell in love with canoeing and just being on the water playing, having that control and experiencing that and then I kind of got through that enough to be like, okay I want to get better at canoeing now so let’s focus in on training. But it was really, really nice getting back on the water after that break definitely.
Was it hard to come to terms with the news that the 2020 Olympic Games were to be postponed to this year or did you see it as a great opportunity to be able to train for an extra year?
The way it ended up was like you could see it coming, for the couple of weeks before they announced it, it was like the whole world was starting to shut down, things were starting to get really difficult just generally. So, I think I definitely saw it coming and therefore it wasn’t a surprise when they postponed it.
But I think the biggest hit for me personally was we’d obviously already been selected but they actually off the back of that decision had to decide whether or not they were going to leave our spots alone and just leave the selection or if they were going to re-run selection. That was the main stressful period for us.
My Olympic selection was so stressful, I hated it, it’s easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the thought of going back into that process was easily the most difficult bit and going back to the unknown. But once they announced we were going to keep our spots then it was actually quite nice and I was able to be like, okay I’ve got another year now, I can stop and look at things that I wouldn’t have had time to do.
I had a bit of a shoulder niggle that’s been playing up and it was like well, actually I have the time now, let’s investigate this. Let’s take the time to step back to move forwards and it was definitely actually quite nice for me, I quite liked having that extra year and I’ve been travelling internationally every summer for the last 10 years so even just to have a summer of being in Britain it was actually quite nice and it was like a mental reset going into what’s going to be a really big year this year.
Are you nervous to be representing your country at the Olympics, or are you thriving off the pressure?
To be honest I don’t think it’s fully hit me. We’ve actually only done one international competition at all this year so at the moment even just competing for Britain doesn’t feel like it’s something I’m doing because I’ve done like one race. But I think as I get closer, I think it will start to build, the important thing is it’s like if the pressure is there it’s because people believe in you and that then is positive.
If someone believes in you, they have a reason to believe in you and I think for me I try and reframe it and think well okay if people think I’m going to medal and if people think I’m going to go away and do well, then that’s because I have history of being at that kind of level and actually if I can turn that around and take that as a positive, they believe in me and they think I could do it then that’s a way to just kind of reframe that. Like take it from pressure to just extra belief behind you.
Are you disappointed that people from around the world won’t be able to come and watch you in person at the Olympics in Tokyo or are you just concentrating on yourself at the minute and focusing on doing the best you possibly can?
It’s a bit of a funny one, I think even if they would have been able to come, I wouldn’t have seen my family as much anyway because the chances always were that we were going to end up pretty restricted in where we were allowed to go which is completely understandable in the situation. So, for me when that announcement came through I was like it’s not ideal, it’s going to be hard, they’re going to be on a completely different timezone, well I guess my fiancé is pretty much just going to operate on a Japanese timezone for the period that I’m racing so he can be there if I need him. But that’s probably the hardest bit for me is the shift in time zones and the fact that your friends and family might not be there because they’ll be asleep.
I’ve never experienced the Games so for me it’s like I don’t know what it would be like so I can only say it’s going to be like what it’s going to be like. And at the end of the day whether there’s spectators, no spectators, only Japanese spectators – it’s just about me delivering what I can in that moment and focussing on that and realistically everything else will exist around that.
Where do you keep all of your medals?
My medals are hung up in the lounge, so they’re displayed in my lounge. I’m not sure my fiancé is that impressed, he does have his own and we’ve got a team medal that’s framed somewhere else. For me they’re just there and they’re something that I see everyday and it’s just that little reminder of what I’ve been through, what I can do and what’s possible for me in the future. I think an Olympic medal, if I was lucky enough to get one, I don’t know, I don’t think it would go in the lounge, I would probably have it in some other place, but yeah, it’s pretty cute.
You have a degree in Sports Therapy from the University of Bedfordshire, so was that always your plan to go to university and use the degree to fall back on when you can no longer compete?
It actually came from when I was quite young, and I picked up an injury whilst paddling and I went and saw one of the sports physios for it and I was talking to her, and she was really passionate about it, and she explained it all.
I’m quite hyper-mobile so my issues came from my shoulders being really mobile and she was explaining it all, saying normal people have more of a ball and a plate, this kind of chat and I just got really interested in anatomy and how it all worked and from then I was like okay I think I want to be a physio. I geared all my schoolwork towards that, then as I got to uni it became a bit more complicated because I was like well I want to be based in London and options to do physio in London don’t exist, and I would have had to have gone into the NHS afterwards.
I found out a bit more about sports therapy and it’s a bit more angled towards like the sport element, it’s very similar to physio but without having to learn about the normal people in the world. At the moment I don’t think it’s what I’ll do when I come out of canoeing.
I think if I retired from canoeing, I think I’d coach just because of how much I feel like I’ve gained from the interactions with my coach and having that relationship and I’d like to believe that I can try and give that back so now I’m a bit more edged towards coaching, but it’s nice to have the degree to fall back on.
Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First. You can follow Lucy on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.