Having tasted Olympic heartbreak five years ago, Deborah Kerr took a giant step towards securing her place at this summer’s Games with victory at the sprint and paracanoe national selection event in Nottingham.
The Motherwell paddler cut an emotional figure after crossing the line first in the women’s K1 200m, with a time of 41.83s enough to book a spot at May’s ICF European selection event in Szeged, Hungary, where a place in Tokyo will be on the line.
That same venue played host to Kerr’s near miss when she went beyond expectations as a wily 18-year-old, and she is determined to get over the line at the second attempt with more experience behind her.
And after trumping Emily Lewis to top spot at Holme Pierrepont the Manchester Metropolitan University student - who came 13th as part of the K4 500m team at the 2019 World Championships - is full of belief she can mix it with the best on the sport’s greatest stage.
“I was heartbroken not to make it in 2016 despite the lack of expectation,” she said. “This is about me telling my 18-year-old self that I can get to that next step, and make it through the selection process.
“It would mean so much to me if I was able to make it to Tokyo, and there’s definitely a chance with everything I’ve worked on. I’m really emotional winning at the national regatta, so I’m not sure what I’d be like if I made it into the Team GB squad.
“I haven’t really trained for the 200m too much this year and I knew the rest of the girls would put up a really big fight, especially Emily.
“One of the things I really wanted to improve was my start and top speed, and my performance today is the best evidence that it’s all coming together. I’m really proud of myself for seeing it through.”
While Kerr has put in the hard yards in the 18 months since her last official regatta, she revealed a focus on the mental side of the sport has aided her progress on the water.
And with just a matter of weeks until she travels out to Hungary she is hoping to combine her improved mental and physical toughness and produce a performance when it matters most.
She added: “A big thing for me this year has been about working on my psyche and my mindset. I made an effort to get in contact with members of support staff that have helped me bridge that gap.
“I think I’m quite a consistent paddler, and while I know I always have the capacity to improve the physical side of things I knew the mental side of things was going to be the tough thing.
“I’m not there yet, but I’ve never raced as calmly as I am doing now. I’ve seen it make a difference in training, and now I’m seeing it in my racing. Hopefully that can continue going forward.”
British Canoeing is the national governing body for paddlesport in the UK