Jeanette Chippington says she'll cherish memories of Tokyo Paralympics forever

Emma Wiggs and Jeanette Chippington. Photo Paralympics GB

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The run up to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo was anything but smooth for Maidenhead-based para-canoe athlete Jeanette Chippington.

The 51-year-old, who was preparing to compete in her seventh consecutive games, had to deal with the death of her father, David, from COVID-19, and hadn't competed against many of her international rivals for a medal in close on two years.

Add to that the training complications posed by coronavirus restrictions over the previous 18 months, with facilities opened and then closed through various lockdowns, it's no wonder she was having some negative thoughts ahead of travelling to Japan.

She also feared this might be the first time she came away from a Paralympic Games without a medal around her neck and spent time re-evaluating what she saw as a being a success.

Just getting to the Games and competing, after the roller-coaster of emotions she'd been through, would be an 'incredible achievement'.

However, those fears were dispelled almost the moment she touched down in Tokyo, by the welcome she and the other athletes received from Games' officials and volunteers, and by the battling qualities she showed to win bronze in the final of the VL2 event, with the gold going to compatriot Emma Wiggs.

She said afterwards, when the going got really tough in the last 100m, that it felt like her late father, and family and friends back home were giving her a little extra push to the finish line.

“I went into the Games with some negative thoughts,” she explained.

“Every athlete who was there was thankful that the Games went ahead under the circumstances. We didn't take it for granted and it will always be an exceptional Games and one which I will cherish forever.

“But it's the first Games I'd gone into having these negative thoughts about how I was going to perform. I probably wasn't the only one because my last international competition had been two years ago, a test event for Tokyo, so no one really knew where they stood against everyone else.

“It's not all about medals, but they're the icing on the cake. But I had to think there was more to it than that, so I just wanted to enjoy every moment. Anyway, the night before I raced, I gave myself a huge talking to. I said, 'you can do this', because I knew I had the ability to win a medal, but I also knew I could have got silver, bronze, or nothing.

“This was my seventh Games and I've medalled at every one so far, and I was wondering 'is this going to be the one I come away from with nothing?'

“So, I was re-evaluating things. Not everyone comes away with a medal and just being there is an incredible achievement. Many more people will come away having not won a medal than will.”

In the end, she needn't have worried. Despite an unfavourable lane draw for the final of the VL2, and with her coach worried about the strength and direction of the wind and how that might affect her, she pulled through to take bronze behind Wiggs who won gold. “I knew it would be close between myself and the Russian,” she said. “My coach had been monitoring the wind conditions every day for the past two years and a head wind from the right is not favourable for me.

“My lane positioning also wasn't great, with very little shelter. He didn't let on, but my coach thought it was the worst lane I could have.

“But I think someone was looking down on me and it all went in my favour.

“It comes down to inches and centimetres between winning a medal and not winning. For that last little bit, when I felt I couldn't go on, I just imagined my family and friends pushing me from behind. I couldn't have gone any harder for the last 30seconds and I certainly think it helped. That last bit, when you want to give up, they helped me keep going.

“Emma (Wiggs) and I shared a room for so many years. We're all appreciative of how hard we all train.

“Only one person can get that gold medal and it was lovely to share that podium with Emma.”

Jeanette was soon back home to celebrate her success with her family and friends but not before being moved to tears by the reaction of the Games volunteers, who she said made Tokyo feel very special indeed.

“There were no spectators, but the volunteers made up for that,” she said.

“They were incredible. They greeted you as if they were the first person they'd met that day.

“My races were towards the end of the competition, but it was as if my medal was the first and only one they'd seen. They were taking photos and were so kind. One of the volunteers made beautiful earrings and gave them to me in a box with my initials on.

“At the airport, people lined up and were clapping. There were so many emotional moments that just brought tears to my eyes. It's sad that the Japanese people couldn't watch because it was an incredible Games.

“But whenever I meet someone from Japan, I will say I was at the Games and tell them my memories and say how grateful and thankful I am.”

She added: “My family came to meet me at the airport. It was lovely, and it was nice to share that moment with them. They also came to the Paralympic Homecoming party.”

Chippington, 51, has a remarkable Paralympic record having won medals in the pool in Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens, before returning after a 12-year absence to win gold in the sport of KL1 paracanoe in Rio in 2016. Having now won bronze in Tokyo, she's yet to decide if she'll try to be back in a GB canoe for Paris in 2024.

“I'm going to take it one year at a time,” she said. “It's the World Championships in Canada next year and it would be great to be selected for that.

“I'm going to take some time off now After the high of winning a medal it's very easy to say it's only another three years to Paris.

“But in a few months’ time, when I've got to be on that freezing cold lake at Dorney in the wind and the rain, I might be thinking 'oh no'.”

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