DORNEY: Blessed by her Maori family, New Zealand's Lisa Carrington stormed to victory in the inaugural K1 200 on Dorney Lake on Saturday to give her country its first women's Olympic gold medal in sprint canoeing.
The smiling 23-year-old from Ohope Beach, New Zealand, wore a green stone necklace in the shape of a whale's tail tucked under her racing outfit that had been blessed by her Maori family for strength and protection.
"My dad's Maori. It's blessed by people from home and that means a lot," Carrington told reporters after winning her first Olympic medal and adding a fifth gold to the New Zealand haul at the London 2012.
The bubbly, 1.68-metre Carrington was one of the smallest competitors in the event but was confident ahead of the race that she could give Hungarian great Natasa Douchev-Janics and 2008 500-metre K1 Olympic champion Inna Osypenko-Radomska from Ukraine a run for their money.
"I've got good power-to-weight ratio. I'm small but I'm strong," she said.
Osypenko-Radomska won silver and Douchev-Janics bronze.
Carrington started surf lifesaving at a club near her home when she was 10 and by 2007 she was competing in the junior Olympics.
"One of the guys who was coaching us at the time said, 'We could go to the Olympics'. I didn't even know, I was 17 and from there I just went to junior world champs."
The explosive sprint over 200 meters is new to the Olympic program and designed to increase interest in the sport, with the canoeists taking three strokes per second in a fight for the line, which suits Carrington racing style.
"You can never predict how fast everyone else is going," Carrington said. "You've got to keep your feet in your lane and you know I just wanted to go as fast as I could."
Carrington, who is distantly related to former All Black rugby player Ken Carrington. said her parents, Pat and Glynis, her older brothers Shaun and Brett as well as boyfriend Bucky were in London and she was looking forward to celebrating her win with them at a dinner later on Saturday.
"I was probably the annoying little sister...but yeah they support me," Carrington said.
Back in Ohope Beach near the motel owned by her parents, who are also both teachers, grandmother Doreen Carrington and some 200 family and friends watched the race and celebrated at the Ohope Surf club.
"We actually went wild," Doreen told Reuters by telephone from the Ocean View Motel, praising her granddaughter's determination and level-headedness.
"We're quite proud of her, she's put in the hard yards and she never, ever boasts about her achievements."
Carrington, who came seventh in the K2 500 metre event earlier this week, said when she got home there would be celebrations, maybe a traditional Haka.
"It is nice to be an icon of the Maori community and New Zealand itself, but you know we have got lots of other gold medalists as well," she said.