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Paddles and premonitions guiding Team GB canoeist Adam Burgess

·4-min read
British canoeist Adam Burgess training in Tokyo (Picture: Reuters)
British canoeist Adam Burgess training in Tokyo (Picture: Reuters)

Every journey begins with a small step, or in Adam Burgess's case, a big soaking, writes James Toney.

Burgess was just ten when introduced to canoe slalom at Stafford and Stone Canoe Club, admitting he spent as much time in the water as on it.

This volunteer club, which is one of many to have benefitted from National Lottery funding to grassroots sport, on the banks of the River Trent has become something of a breeding ground for talent, producing ten Olympians since 1972.

And five years ago, Joe Clarke became their greatest graduate when striking gold in Rio.

Burgess, who first represented Britain aged 14 and moved to Nottingham to train full-time two years later, follows in that tradition after taking the long route to his Olympic debut aged 29, with a series of injuries punctuating his career.

“When I think about all the setbacks that makes me proud, it would have been very easy to give it up,” said Burgess, who is one of over 1,000 athletes to currently benefit from National Lottery funding, allowing him to train full time and access world class facilities, technology, coaching and support teams.

“There's been some really low moments, but it's been a journey, the worst of times have been my biggest lessons.”

Nearly 700 days will have passed between Burgess's Olympic selection and the heats for his C1 event at Tokyo's Sea Forest Waterway.

It's a good job Burgess is passionate about yoga and mindfulness because this fractured Games build up means he's had to live the mantra of: 'You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.'

Burgess likes to say he has got a knack with premonitions – though not even his 'superpowers' could have predicted selection for the Olympics would be followed by the Games postponement.

Burgess was ten when he was introduced to the sport that would take him to Tokyo (Picture: Adam Burgess)
Burgess was ten when he was introduced to the sport that would take him to Tokyo (Picture: Adam Burgess)

“I'd thought about qualifying every single day until I had a bit of a premonition. I saw myself crossing the finish line in Rio,” he added.

“I felt it at the end of 2018 when I was driving from London to visit my family.

“I had to stop and pull over because I was getting too emotional. I was thinking about qualifying and then it just came to me.

“It was the most bizarre thing, I just felt it so intensely, it was so real. It was like I was there and I knew I was going to the Games.

“To start with it was too overwhelming to talk about so I tried to make it really natural and really normal for me.

“When I started telling people they would look at me as if to say: ‘you are going to the Games?’ and that gave me even more belief that it was going to happen.”

However, there was no premonition about a global pandemic delaying his moment or a sense that the wait will be ended with a gold medal, upgrading his silver from last year's World Cup, a performance that helped secure his place on the plane.

“I’m waiting for it, but I’m not going to panic if it’s not there," added Burgess, who admitted that National Lottery players support of GB’s athletes has been vital throughout his career.

“We’ve got an amazing team around us and we are going to be the best prepared nation out there.

“Obviously, the last few months have been strange but I just hope that the Olympics can be this massive celebration for the world next year. I can't wait.”

Burgess's fight for selection certainly makes him battle-hardened for the Games. Only one athlete could be selected for the men's C1 class and that meant getting the better of David Florence, a paddler with three silvers from the last three Games.

Young Burgess on the water in 2005 (Picture: Andy Neave)
Young Burgess on the water in 2005 (Picture: Andy Neave)

Currently based with the British team at Lee Valley, Burgess moved home to Staffordshire at the start of lockdown, with his first club lending him a kayak ergo to keep fit.

He is also used the time to work on the mental side of a sport in which the margins between champ and chump can be fractional.

“I've probably been on a canoe every day since I was ten and I’ve never had this much time off though and it's been tough,” he added.

“When things get hard for me, I have what I call the energy plan. I write a list of things and try to do each thing every day.

“That plan came in for me when I was struggling, nothing serious, but I thought ‘I must do something about this’.

“It’s something I go to if things get intense and it’s something I push on all my friends.

“At the moment, my plan is: read, play music, eat at least one meal a day with someone, drink my speciality coffee and do yoga.

“I go to yoga as often as I can. I can feel the energy of everyone there and what they are giving me.

“Maybe that’s what it is, I’m spending too much time with yogis and I’m having premonitions!”

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise around £36 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at and get involved by using the hashtags: #TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen

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