Craig Gillies earlier this week caught up with Sprint canoeist Jonny, to give us an update on how the grant has helped and what he’s been up to over the past few months.
Hi Jonny, can you just give us a bit of background – how did you get into Sprint Canoeing?
It was basically back in 2004. I was looking for something to do after school and where I grew up in Fladbury – there’s either a tennis club or the paddle club and, for me, the paddle club was the natural choice! I have always been a competitive person, even from a young age and I just loved being out there and racing against people! Also because Fladbury is such a small place, the coach to athlete ratio is quite high, so it means you get a lot of quality support and coaching. The coaches and everybody at the club were very encouraging and supportive, I felt right at home. Also, if I may say so, ‘watermanship’ seemed to come relatively naturally to me as I quickly grasped that paddling on the right would turn the boat to the left.
Was there anything in particular that inspired you?
As I mentioned, the coaches and everyone at the paddle club were brilliant when I started out. From the beginning, I have been coached by Andy Train, who has competed at 5 Olympic Games from Los Angeles through to Sydney. I also remember watching an interview with GB’s Tim Brabants, who won Gold and Bronze in the K1 1000m and K1 500m respectively in Beijing in 2008. He talked about the dedication required to reach the top, and it struck a chord, it was something that I wanted a piece of and still do!
What are the things you most like about the sport?
I think as I said I’ve always enjoyed competition and the buzz that gives. I also really like the feeling when you’re out on the water on your own and you can just switch everything else off and focus on the boat and the water. I like unique the fusion of power and endurance that sprint canoeing demands of you. Although the C1 1000m it is a sprint event – it lasts for about 4 mins, so its power and endurance all in one, the recipe for quite a challenge and the need for a well-rounded athlete. And finally, personally, I really like the technical nuances of the discipline – how something very subtle in terms of technique can make such a huge difference to your speed through the water.
To date, what would be your standout or most memorable achievements?
In 2015, I was selected to go the World Cup 1 in Montemor-O-Velo, Portugal. Aged only 18, this was my first major senior international regatta, to make the final on my debut major international was great. Then, last year, my C2 partner and I made it to the 2nd round Olympic qualifiers in Duisburg, Germany, for the C2 1000m. To put it in to context, we had to finish top 2 in an open national regatta in April and then win the British Olympic Selection Trials 2 weeks later to prove our status as the nations best. I was also in the middle of my exams while training and competing out I Germany so my time on land was largely spend in a nearby café studying for my first year mechanical engineering exams. We finished in 6th in the qualifiers, but post race, 2 teams were disqualified for doping so we moved up to 4th, but this was still short of Qualification for Rio. I knew it was a big ask for me being only 19, but it was a shot at going to the Olympics and I consider myself fortunate to have made it that far! As it was, I passed my ‘Mechanics 1‘ exam with a 2:1 so it wasn’t a total loss! Following that, I went to the Senior European Championships in Moscow in June 2016, where we managed 13th in the C2 1000m and 11th in the C1 5000m. Also, being U/23 C1 1000m and 5000m National Champion in 2016, is something I’m very proud of.
So, we’ve talked about past achievements and standout moments, what about the future? What are your goals/targets for the coming season and beyond?
Last season’s decision to try for the Olympic Qualifiers somewhat stifled my chances to race at the at either the European or World U23 Championships last year, despite being the National Champion in my discipline. So this year, as there won’t be any Olympic qualifiers, I have set my targets on the U23 European and World Championships, the aim is to be in The C1 1000m final. It is going to be a big year academically too so I have to factor that in, and get the balance right. The long term plan, for the next 4 years at least, is to peak for the Tokyo qualifiers in 2019, we came close to qualifying for Rio last year, but I want to really be on top of my game by the time the next Olympic Qualifiers come around. Of course I will have Graduated, from my Mechanical Engineering Degree (currently in my second year) by then too…. hopefully! Although I do plan to do a Masters, probably over 2 years, which will allow me to train more.
And you mentioned balancing your studies and training/competing, just how tough is that?
It is as hard as it sounds I guess but I’m a big fan of routine and that is key so it just a question of getting organised and sticking to a schedule. I’m really fortunate to have a great coach, he is a hugely pragmatic and understanding guy and having already combined a world-class training plan alongside academic study he is the ideal coach for me. As soon as I have my timetable for the term, we will sit down together and structure my training schedule around it, this helps a lot. It is also a huge help that I get support from an organisation called TASS, which is the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme. It is an organisation founded to help University Students who are athletes. This gives me assistance with Strength and conditioning coaching, Lifestyle support, nutrition, physio and even sports psychology should I require it, all of which are of great benefit to me. TASS has been great, and in fact I’ve now become a member of their premiere Athlete Advisory Group. To fulfil this role, I serve the Birmingham delivery site in representing our 17 TASS athletes to ensure the TASS support is optimally applied to meet the needs of the diverse range of athletes.
What did your grant from CG5 get used for? And just how has that helped you?
It went directly towards my boat! I was using a boat which was on long term loan, she was a fine vessel but sadly she wasn’t mine and the time came when I had to come up with the dough. Working part time as a Lifeguard simply wouldn’t cover it and without CG5 I would have been really stuck! I now own the boat which gives me much more freedom and peace of mind to paddle to my heart’s content across the British waterways and beyond!
And finally, any words of advice for youngsters looking to get into the sport?
One valuable nugget of advice I could give is something to the tune of: Prioritise the basic 99% of living and training and not the 1% marginal gain. By which I mean – if you don’t get your monophasic 8 hours sleep a night, eat healthily and sustainably, hydrate yourself properly and of course execute your tasks/sessions with the right intensity then the marginal gains that can be achieved from that model-up GPS watch, gallons of green tea and supplements or hours on the foam roller are a waste of valuable resources and time! Only when you are nailing the basic routines that make a sound and healthy athlete day in, day out is it time to think about the finer points that may give you that edge we all crave. Because if you do the base work flawlessly, you may not even need it.
You’ll see from the links below Jonny is making plenty of noise!!