Since winning K1 gold at the YOG Nanjing 2014, French slalom canoeist Camille Prigent has been crowned world under-23 champion and won team titles at the World and European Championships.
One of the few things missing from the 22-year-old’s blossoming résumé so far is an appearance at the Olympic Games. It is something that eluded her parents throughout their own canoe slalom careers, with both winning medals at World Championships in the days before the discipline was a regular feature on the Olympic programme.
Prigent was hoping to finally make her family’s Olympic debut this year, but that experience is now on hold until the rearranged Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 takes place in 2021, with her older brother, Yves, also pushing for a place in the French canoe slalom team.
How much has your training been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
“We are now allowed to paddle the course in Vaires-sur-Marne, near Paris, again. I'm really happy about that. I didn't train on the whitewater for two months, but I was quite lucky because I was able to borrow some gym equipment from the training centre near where I live in Rennes, so I could train really well in the gym and work on my core. I've also been running a lot. And I was really lucky because I have a river near my house within the kilometre radius that we were allowed to exercise in. At first, I wasn't sure that I was allowed to go, so I didn't paddle for around 20 days, but after that I was able to train once a day on the flat. It’s still not the best training, not being on the whitewater, but I was actually pretty lucky compared to a lot of athletes.”
Do you miss not being able to paddle on the whitewater?
“Yes, it was hard. I hadn’t had such a long break since I started kayaking, so maybe since I was 12 years old. But I was like, ‘We are athletes and it's not the biggest problem right now. There is the pandemic and there are lots of bigger problems to take care of’. So, I understood that we were not allowed to go. Now, it feels really good to start again. I missed the feeling, and I tried to watch a lot of videos so that I didn’t forget how to do it!”
Has it given you a chance to work on some different aspects of your training that you wouldn't normally get the chance to focus on?
“Yes. With my coach, we did a lot of video calls and we were watching some of my race videos, and also some of the best women in K1. We talked about a lot of technical things that I can improve, and we were also working on the mental side a little bit. I think it has helped me a lot. Now, I can feel that I am already improving even after not paddling for so long. I’ve also had some time to try new things. I was painting a little bit and also watching some TV series. I never have time to do this usually, so I appreciated that too.”
With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 being postponed, do you think having an extra year to prepare and improve could benefit you?
“Yes, I think that it gives me more time to improve and be the best in my category in France before the selections, and it also gives me a chance to get closer to the best internationally. I hadn’t been selected yet, but I think I would've been able to be in the Olympic team if selection had happened normally. But maybe I wouldn’t have been able to win an Olympic medal. It would perhaps have been too hard because there are some really good women in K1 like Jess [Fox] and Ricarda [Funk]. I think they’re still a lot faster than me, but maybe having one more year can help me improve and get closer to them.”
How do you reflect on your experiences at the YOG Nanjing 2014?
“I have really good memories; it was an awesome time. I met so many young athletes of my own age in different disciplines and from all over the world. I made many friends, which was so cool, and I got to meet some champions like Lisa Carrington. It was all just like the Olympic Games, with the Opening Ceremony and the Athletes’ Village. It was so impressive, especially when I was only 15. After Nanjing, I was so motivated to experience it all again at the Olympic Games.”
And to win the gold medal must have made the experience even more special?
“It was one little extra thing that made it even better. But even without the result, I really enjoyed every part of the event. The medal was one of my first really good results, so I think I will always remember it. And the time on the podium with my friend Amy Hilgertová; it was really nice to share it with her.”
Do you think your experiences in Nanjing will help prepare you if you do make it to Tokyo 2020?
“Yes, for sure. I think it helps a lot, because you're ready for big events and you know what to expect more than if you have never done something like this. And also, I've seen all the Olympic Games since I was born because my parents were always taking us to watch canoe slalom and other events. I think this could give me a little advantage too, to have seen it. If I go to the Games one day, I will know exactly how it is already. It's a big advantage, I think.”
Your brother also competes internationally. What would it mean for you to both compete in the Olympic Games?
“He has the goal to go to Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024. It would be even better to be there together as brother and sister, but we know it will be hard. It's really cool having him competing as well. We can always help each other and give advice to each other. It's always nice to share it with your family, because my parents are also in the kayaking world. It's nice to share it with my brother, and we are not in the same category, so we're not opponents. I think it would be different if my sister was racing. Maybe it would be a little harder to be racing against her. But with my brother, it's really cool. My parents never got the chance to compete at the Olympic Games, so they would probably be really happy for us if we both make it; but really I think they're just happy that we are having fun kayaking. They don't really care about the results.”