26 September 2020

Canoe enthusiasts mapping the progress of Belgium’s Hermien Peters and Lize Broekx would have nodded knowingly on Saturday after the duo stormed home to grab gold in the women’s K2 500 at the ICF canoe sprint world cup in Szeged, Hungary.

True some of the biggest names in the women’s K2 had been kept away because of Covid restrictions, but you can only beat what is put up against you, and after their customary slow start, the Belgians did it in style.

While the headline grabbers were battling it out in 2019 for women’s K2 supremacy, Peters and Broekx quietly worked their way through the ranks, culminating with a solid fourth at last year’s world championships.

Watch a video of the K2 500 final here

A ticket to Tokyo 2020 locked away, the pair were ready to put down something special at their debut Olympics. And then along came Covid.

It threw up all sorts of curveballs for athletes around the world, and presented both physical and mental challenges no-one had been forced to deal with before.

And when you are a member of a K2, being in close proximity to each other goes with the job.

“Of course it was difficult with the delay of the Olympics and Covid and quarantine, but we just keep trying to do our best every day,” Peters said.

“It was a really difficult time mentally as well, but I think we became stronger because of it. I think it’s a good thing to be racing well to be mentally strong and to believe in yourself, and to believe that you can do it.

“I think that’s where we got some improvement this year.”

Of course it was difficult with the delay of the Olympics and Covid and quarantine

Social distancing meant Peters and Broekx had to change their approach. And for a while it felt very strange. But Peters is convinced it actually made them a better K2 combination.

“We stopped training K2 sessions for two or three months, so we did just our own sessions,” she said.

“After a while we could do the sessions together, but still in the K1 so we could keep our distance. We always used to train once or twice a week in K2, but this year it was not possible. But I think we made each other stronger by training in the K1, so that can only be good for the K2.”

“We’ve been paddling together for a very long time, so we know how it is,” Broekx said.

“We just have to reconnect. Even if we just do two K2 sessions, it already goes better and better.”

I think we made each other stronger by training in the K1

While winning gold at an ICF world cup is always enjoyable, the big picture is next year. Belgium has not had a female canoe sprint athlete at the Olympics since 2004, and you have to go all the way back to 1984 for the last, and only other time, they’ve had a women’s K2 team at a Games.

“Kayak isn’t such a big sport in Belgium, but everyone who knows about us and is really interested and want us to do well,” Peters said.

“We feel really supported, and we get lots of messages, this weekend as well from friends and mates and from all of Belgium to congratulate us.”

Watch an interview with Peters and Broekx here

Suddenly Peters and Broekx are no longer under the radar. But after coming through the challenges of 2020, 2021 will be like floating down a river…

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