How canoeist Jess Fox is preparing for Olympic gold on dry land

Jess Fox can't remember the last time she spent five weeks off the whitewater. Growing up in a household of competitive canoeists, the last time may well have been before she could walk.

"A couple of years ago I had septum surgery to realign my septum, and I think I had three weeks off the whitewater maybe, and that felt like the longest time and was really difficult," the two-time Olympic medallist tells ESPN from her parents' house in Sydney's west.

"I'm used to training on the rapids every day ... Penrith Whitewater Stadium is my second home and I've been off [the water] for about five weeks now - that's the longest I've ever had off the whitewater."

The 25-year-old slalom canoeist in the K1 (kayak) and C1 (canoe) disciplines is supposed to be in Tokyo right now, at a training camp sussing out the Olympic course, but the COVID-19 pandemic -- which has forced the postponement of the Games until July next year -- has thrown a massive spanner in the works.

Instead of counting down the days until her third Olympics, Fox is isolating at home, filling her days with home gym sessions and watching vision.

It's not all bad, she insists. Her sister Noemie is also a slalom canoeist and is her training partner, while her mum, Myriam -- a bronze medallist in K1 for France at the 1996 Atlanta Games -- is her coach, so she's still focused while the world around her has changed almost inconceivably.

"My mum is my coach, so it's pretty easy to see her in the kitchen and we have a chat, but obviously without the whitewater, it's difficult to have anything to really coach at the moment," she says.

"I feel very lucky that we've got a backyard and a veranda so we can set up a bit of a home gym with equipment that Paddle Australia has lent us. So I feel like I can ... do a good home workout.

"My strengths coach will be Zooming and Facetiming, and I've got my programs set up, and he's seem our home gym setup so he can write a program accordingly. It's all very much across technology with my other coaches.

"And with mum, a lot of the coaching and technical work will come from video analysis from previous competitions throughout the season or the Tokyo course and we'll just keep working on those elements while we can't be on the water."

Adjusting to the new normal has been "a challenge" for Fox, and she's been forced to become a little inventive to ensure she doesn't lose the feel of being in her kayak.

"I don't know if I'm going crazy or being creative, but I think we're lucky that we have a backyard pool. It's like 7 metres by 3.5 metres, so it's not huge by any means, and my kayak is 3.5 metres long, so I need to be really careful when I turn it not to hit the pool lining," she laughs.

"But that means I can still practice a few strokes and get on the water - even just being in the kayak, holding the paddle, feeling the water, that all still fires those neural pathways, so yeah I try and do that.

"But I think the biggest gains that I can make are in the gym and in my fitness and in my mental visualisation work."

And Fox thinks of herself as a mentally tough person, both on the slalom course and in everyday life. The 2012 Games silver medallist and 2016 Games bronze medallist says she wasn't at all rattled by the decision to postpone Tokyo, instead, was more concerned by the organisers' slow reactions to the coronavirus pandemic.

"Because I was expecting the [postponement], I wasn't shocked and I think I coped with the announcement quite well, and I think I'm a fairly adaptable person, so it was like 'okay, let's just try and get used to this situation and let's just make the most of what we've got'," Fox tells ESPN.

"[In fact] I sort of struggled in the lead-up to the decision being made because in my mind there was no way the Olympics could go ahead, and yet we were still in the unknown, and it wasn't going to be until the end of May that a decision would be made.

"I just couldn't get my head around it and I really struggled to show up to training because I was thinking 'what's the point?'. Because there's no way the Olympics were going to go ahead. Those last few sessions once that decision had been made but we could still paddle, I remember just being like 'let's just enjoy the time on the water because we don't know when the next time will be', so I shifted from a performance to an enjoyment state of mind."

But now that dates has been announced for next year, Fox can refocus and set herself physically for the Games, something she was doing beautifully in the lead up to original July 2020 date. Fox was fresh off first place finishes in her last major meet, snaring gold in the K1 and C1 disciplines at the 2020 Oceania Canoe Slalom Championships in New Zealand.

"In our sport, it's not an exact science to peak and taper physically, because there's such a big technical element that there's a bit more leeway. Obviously we do try and taper and our physical work is set up across the year, but I think it's not super specific that this hasn't derailed everything like in a lot of other sports," she says.

One thing that was derailed was her routine but now she has one that works, the time is flying by.

"I needed to set myself into a new normal - a new routine. So waking up and having a few things I do every morning that get me into a good state of mind, and excited about the day and 'what can I achieve today?' and I'm actually finding that my days are going by pretty quickly," she says.

"I'm doing gym or cardio in the morning, and then maybe paddling skills in the afternoon or vice versa. My days around that fill up pretty quickly with [interviews] and other commitments, or making workout videos, so I feel lucky that for now the days are going quickly.

"But maybe in a couple of months when the Olympics are meant to be on, it might feel a little more difficult."

It's also been difficult to watch her fellow competitors on social media, she says. Some may be gaining an advantage ahead of the Games, due to more relaxed rules about training and social distancing in other parts of the world.

"People are being a little bit more quiet on social media at the moment on what they can and can't do. But I know that in Germany for example, if the athletes are in the army, they're able to train normally. I think that's the case in the Czech Republic as well, and in Slovakia they're allowed on the water again. Then there are some others we're not sure about. I think in the U.S. maybe they can [train] but in France they're confined - they're not even meant to leave [their house], they're only meant to only exercise within 500 metres of their house," Fox says.

"The rules are quite different depending on where you are, and I do feel lucky that in Australia we can still exercise outside, walk the dog and stuff, but the whitewater part is the challenging part, but in another way I can work on my strength and fitness, and hopefully I won't lose too much when I get back on the whitewater."

But for Fox, isolation isn't all about the hard yards - she has enjoyed her down time, too.

Like many cooped up inside, Fox has been passing the time poring over recipes - some which have come from her grandmother who is staying at the family home.

"The 'iso baking' is definitely taking hold in my house," she laughs, "My grandma has been with us as well, so I'm just trying to make the most of her being with us and learning all her recipes and trying new things too. I've made a few good cakes and chocolate fondants which have been delicious.

"And I tried making bagels, but I used the wrong flour, so they turned out pretty miserably."

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Fox trading in rapids for baking in isolation

Australian Olympic canoeist Jess Fox says she's taken to baking during isolation, with mixed results.

Her baking skills might not be worthy of a gold medal just yet, but the hunt for ultimate Olympic glory still burns inside of Fox, who remains circumspect and upbeat despite the challenging situation society faces.

"I'm feeling okay," she says. "But I don't know if in July, when we should have been in Tokyo, it might be a bit more difficult, but I'm lucky that I've got a good support network.

"And I think it's important to keep things in perspective that it's all for the greater good of everyone."