Elite-level sport can be cruel enough at the best of times, but this adds a whole new layer to it.
After so many near misses, Aussie superstar Jess Fox finally won the Olympic gold medal she craved in the women’s canoe slalom final on Thursday and it made for some painful viewing for her rivals.
There were 10 competitors in Fox’s final and at the bottom of the course, about 40m from the finish line, was a little area set up on land where a select group of athletes stood around while the rest were competing.
The provisional top-three place getters form a mock podium. The canoeist with the fastest time stands in the middle, while on their left and right sit the second and third fastest performers.
Some of them will stand there until the final is over, which means they’ll leave with a medal. Others won’t stand there at all, not getting into the top three at any point. Then there are those who, perhaps cruellest of all, are part of the trio for a period of time before getting punted for good.
It’s a bit like getting voted off the island in Survivor. Once you get traded out and someone faster takes your place, there’s no coming back. For a time you might think you’re in with a medal shot, then somebody comes and guides you off stage, replacing you with a newer, better model.
It happens all the time in the sport, not just at an Olympics, but it makes for some awkward scenes on the biggest stage of all.
At one stage Austria’s Nadine Weratschnig was standing among the top three, smack bang in the middle, hoping her rivals still to paddle faltered and left her with gold. They didn’t and, one by one, started crashing her party.
Great Britain’s Mallory Franklin, Andrea Herzog from Germany and France’s Marjorie Delassus consecutively all went faster than Weratschnig to the point where she was shafted from her centre position twice, then ultimately forced to leave her spot under the tent altogether, knowing her medal hopes were over.
Fast forward to the very end of Thursday’s final and Franklin was the fastest among the nine competitors who had paddled before Fox. The Brit stood in the middle of the makeshift podium, alongside Herzog and Delassus.
Fox was the last woman to paddle because she qualified quickest in the semi-finals, so the aforementioned trio would have been feeling nervous about their spots in the pecking order.
Standing under a shaded tent as Fox prepared to hit the course, Franklin was preparing herself for the possibility she may not be standing in the same spot in less than two minutes’ time.
“I mean, it’s Jess. You’ve got to have an understanding that she’s quite likely to be able to do some really good paddling,” the silver medallist said.
“I just knew once she started to build a run and take little chunks (of time) out, she was always going to put it together. She’s a phenomenal paddler.
“I mean, I’ve come second to her many times, so I’m pretty used to it.”