Britain’s most successful female canoeist has a chance to make history in Tokyo by becoming the first Olympic champion in the women’s single slalom.
Mallory Franklin, a four-time individual and team world champion, is one of the favourites in the women’s C1 event, included in the Games for the first time as it moves towards gender equality.
The 27-year-old recorded the fastest time in both heats on Wednesday to go into the last two sessions on Thursday, with a talent which has been clear to everyone since she was a child, according to her fiance Ciaran Lee Edwards.
He told the PA news agency: “I think everyone knew she had lots of talent. She was really young, I think about 12, when she got promoted to the top division, the premier division, within the UK.
“She was this little girl fighting the big rapids that everyone was in awe of. She’s always had lots of potential and people have been able to see that.”
Mr Edwards, 28, who is also a canoeist, and Franklin met when they were both competing in the sport.
The couple, now based in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, in order to be close to the Lee Valley White Water Centre for training, got engaged in December 2018 and are due to get married later this year.
“Back when we were around nine or 10, we both happened to be doing national competitions with our local canoe clubs, so we just happened to be on the same riverbank at different parts of the UK,” he said.
“We got to know each other over a few years when we were real youngsters, and then we got together as a young couple when we were like 14 or 15.
“We’ve just grown up together, supporting each other through thick and thin, and being able to share the journey together.”
Franklin has struggled with shoulder and back injuries in the past and was forced to spend 12 weeks away from the water during the first coronavirus lockdown last year.
“That was really tough, she was certainly itching to get back out there, and at that point the Games still hadn’t been delayed, so the clock was counting down,” Mr Edwards said.
“There was a real challenge around understanding what the landscape would look like, whether they would be re-selected for the delayed games.
“But once that was all confirmed, she’s really been able to just knuckle down and see the positives within the situation of being able to have some more time to really analyse what she could work on.”
Mr Edwards said that Franklin was “really thrilled” to have shown her ability in the heats on Wednesday, but that she acknowledged the “clock starts from zero” on Thursday.
Looking ahead to the finals, he said: “Obviously there’s a huge piece of history to own there, but for Mallory, I know she will just be focused on her and her process, and it would just be the reward for the years and years of hard work and dedication.
“She had many years where she struggled with injury so it would be the cherry on the cake of all the hard work she’s put in.
“She really is just about improving herself day in, day out so it would be nice to have, but it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world for her, she’d move on to Paris and set her sights again.”