FIONA PENNIE envisaged herself ending 2020 having hung up her paddle after a hugely successful career as one of Scotland’s best-ever slalom canoeists. 

Instead, she will spend the coming months battling her way through a winter training block in the freezing cold waters of the GB training centre at Lee Valley in London.  

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics is at the heart of Pennie’s decision to continue but for some, the thought of another year of pushing their body to the limit would have been too much, especially when a seat on the plane to Tokyo is only something of an outside possibility. 

Pennie, who hails from Dumbarton, is a veteran of two Olympic Games having competed at Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 but having narrowly missed out on guaranteed selection for Tokyo 2020, she was named as a reserve for Team GB. 

And while few would have forgiven Pennie for retiring this year as planned, extending her career by another year was a foregone conclusion for the 38-year-old and in fact, the break from competition this summer has served as a welcome boost for both her mind and her body. 

“I always wanted to carry on once I knew the Olympics were postponed, it wasn’t a hard decision,” the former World and European champion says. 

“I’m still as driven as ever. Before the pandemic, I was starting to get a little tired – both in terms of the strain on my body and also mentally it’s draining with all the travelling and everything.  

“Each season feels like quite a long haul whereas this year has felt like a little bit of a break. I think 2020 has made me as motivated as ever.” 

Pennie was unlucky in that canoeing was one of the few sports that confirmed their Olympic selections prior to the Games being postponed. Instead of taking things easy over lockdown though, Pennie threw herself headfirst into training as well as a whole slew of DIY projects including decking her garden and building an attic. 

For someone who has been competing internationally for over two decades, such a prolonged period at home was something of a luxury and gave her a taste of what life might be like when she finally does hang up her paddle next year. And while retirement is always a daunting prospect for someone who has been in the sport for so long, Pennie admits there is certainly part of her looking forward to having a more normal life. 

“The intensity of the training take its toll and as you get older, it definitely becomes a little more difficult to get out of bed every day so I’m pretty sure this next season will be my last,” she says. 

“The thought of retirement does feel a little bit strange but actually this year has given me a taste of it.  

“Deep down, I know that it’s time soon and I know there’s another side to life. It would be nice to keep paddling but I think my body would just say no at some point.” 

British Canoeing are extremely keen for Pennie to join their coaching ranks but while using her expertise and experience to help the next generation of canoeists is not something she is adverse to, it is not a field she wants to dive straight into following her retirement as an athlete. 

And for now anyway, her sights remain set on doing everything she can to add to her already impressive medal haul in her final season. 

Her first major event will be the European Championships in May, an event which she won the K1 title in 2013, before heading to the World Championships in September.  

Her previous successes at these events, most recently winning world gold in the K1 team last year, give her the knowledge she still has what it takes to compete with the very best and having dealt with the disappointment that the Olympics will not be her swansong, she is fully focused on going out of the sport she has spent her entire adult life in on a high. 

“Obviously I’m trying to achieve even more and I feel like I have the tools to still do well,” she says.  

“I look back on my career and I know I have got a lot of good results and so while yes, it would have been nice to go to the Olympics again and do well, it is what it is. You get your chance and if you miss it, you just have to give it everything for the next best thing which for me, is the World Championships.”