Jeanette Chippington (right) with GB teammate Emma Wiggs.
Maidenhead’s Jeanette Chippington admitted this week she’s reached a ‘turning point’ in her para-canoeing career, but in a week which saw her receive an OBE in the New Year Honours, she hasn't yet ruled out the possibility of remaining in the sport until the Paris Games in 2024.
That still seems like a very long way off for Jeanette, who was back in the boat on Tuesday for her first ‘freezing cold’ training session following a three-week break for Christmas. However, should she perform well at the World Championships and European Championships in August – and then qualify a boat for Paris next year – she admits she’d be compelled to stay on and fight for qualification to her eighth Paralympics squad.
However, it’s a different training environment the 51-year-old has returned to after winning bronze in the VL2 class in Tokyo, her 14th Paralympic medal across 33 years of competition. Funding has been cut across a range of Paralympic sports and much of the training, physio, medical and coaching support she’s received at Bisham Abbey has been relocated to Nottingham. She’s still able to access it but to fully benefit from it she’d have to relocate to the midlands and uproot her family, something she’s not prepared to do. If she is to achieve further success at the World and European championships this summer – and set her sights on Paralympic qualification for 2024 – she’ll have to do it without much of the support she’s become accustomed to.
“It was freezing at training today,” she said. “This year is going to be a turning point for me, I think. There have been such funding cuts across all sports, so, the support I had down here has been cut.
“My coach has been made redundant, all the medical and physio and strength and conditioning support I had at Bisham, that’s all been cut. It’s still available to me but I would have to relocate to Nottingham and that’s not something I would want to do. The plan is for my coach to write the sessions and be around for the odd session and my husband also kayaks so he can support. It will be a bit odd this year to see how it goes.
“Next year it’s qualifying the boats for Paris. If I can qualify the boat, that’s it, I’ve got to stay and try to get that spot for Paris.
“I’m not going to hand that spot over to someone, they’d have to fight for it.
“People say it’s only three years away, but three years is a long time, especially when you go out on days like today and think ‘oh god’.
“If you’re training at an elite level, it’s important to be able to access physio or see doctors when you need them. It’s not going to be impossible, but it means I’ll have to find other ways to sort those things out.”
Jeanette was the oldest member of the Paralympic GB squad at Tokyo and will be in her mid-50s when Paris rolls around in just under three years’ time. To get there she’ll have to find a way of staying at the top of her game with less of the support elite athletes lean on to stay in peak condition.
“I actually only took two weeks off after Tokyo,” she said.
“I was desperate to get back in the boat, and my coach was very vocal that if you take a complete break, it will be so hard to get back.
“The sessions up to Christmas weren’t that easy. After three weeks I got back into hard training. Then having a few weeks off at Christmas getting back into the boat today I was like ‘oh, that’s hard!’
“Thank goodness I didn’t take three months off after Tokyo because it would have been a real killer to get back in shape.
“We don’t have anything until August, and then all of August is racing with the World Championships in Canada at the beginning of the month and the European Championships in Munich at the end of the month. There’s another championships in between at Dorney which would be nice to do as well. Obviously, I’ve still got to qualify but that’s the plan.”