How Jess Fox overcame pressure, hurdles and opponents on the way to fairytale gold

Like many athletes competing at the Tokyo Olympics, Australian slalom canoeist Jessica Fox has had to overcome some mammoth challenges just to get to the Games.

The Rio 2016 K1 bronze and London 2012 K1 silver medallist had set herself the goal of going better in Japan before the world was rocked by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic - one which ultimately delayed the Olympics by one year.

With the pressure of going into the Games as the K1 and C1 world No. 1 despite not having competed in a meaningful meet for a year, and just after the heartbreak of falling shy of gold in the K1 event earlier in the week, Fox was hell-bent on claiming gold in the C1.

For many average Australians, Fox has become the face of the Games. From bursting into the scene as a medal-winning teenager with a 200 megawatt smile, to the heartache of Rio and the expectation-turned-disappointment of the 2020 K1 run. If you've watched Australian TV the last last few days, just about all you will have seen are promos of the paddler. Every ad break has been a reminder of what has (and hasn't) been won, but also of what was yet to be won.

But what she produced in the canoe was the stuff of dreams. Fox flew through the heats and finished the semifinal run as the fastest paddler on the course, and backed it up magnificently with a near-perfect run in the final, finishing more than three seconds in front of her nearest opponent.

Her story finally had its fairytale finish, and it's thanks in part to a level head and sense of perspective.

Fox discovered last year while hunkered down in isolation at her family home in Sydney, that it's her resilience which is one of her defining and most admirable traits.

Confined to her family home due to local COVID-19 restrictions in Australia in March and April of 2020, Fox was forced to take up training for the delayed Games in her backyard.

She spent weeks -- the longest she's ever had off the whitewater -- away from the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, while some of her contemporaries in Europe and the United States were in canoes and kayaks daily.

With her mother (and coach) Myriam -- a K1 bronze medallist for France at the 1996 Games -- going through vision on the back verandah, and working through strength routines and cardio workouts most days, Fox never felt left behind despite the roadblocks. Instead, she got creative.

"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 told ESPN in April last year.

"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.

"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 strength coach will be Zooming, 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."

At the time, Fox described herself as a resilient and "adaptable" person, so it's little surprise when she finished the K1 event with a bronze medal -- a brilliant result but not the gold she was after -- it didn't take long for her to pick herself back up to refocus for the C1 event.

Her father, Richard, commentating for Australia's host broadcaster Channel 7 said the K1 final "shattered her", but as Fox told ESPN last year, she had been working on her "mental visualisation".

And so, on Thursday, with thoughts of COVID-19, isolations, and K1 heartbreak nowhere near front of mind, Fox then went on to paddle the run of her life, securing gold in the first ever C1 event in an emphatic and deserving fashion.

But given just how calm and composed her father has been in commentary this past week, is it any wonder his daughter was able to overcome the adversity, the pressure and the stress to secure a maiden Olympic gold medal?