Canoeist Fiona Denvir wins Championship Open

Fiona Denvir won gold.  Picture: Ian Rutherford
Fiona Denvir won gold. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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AN Olympics-inspired schoolgirl has made history by becoming the first female canoeist to win the Scottish Sprint Championship Open – only a year after taking up the sport.

Fiona Denvir, 14, decided to give it a go after Olympic heroes Tim Baillie and Dave Florence visited her school.

The duo spoke about their historic one-two for Britain, grabbing silver and gold last summer.

Their tale motivated the teen to pick up a paddle, culminating in her taking gold at the ­competition held at Strathclyde Country Park Regatta Loch.

Fiona, a third-year pupil at St Thomas of Aquin’s, joined the school’s Canoe and Kayak Club which is run by former GB internationalist and World Championship bronze medallist, Cynthia Berry.

She spent most of the ­summer getting specialist coaching from Robert Bartusik, training on the Union Canal with Forth Canoe Club.

She said: “I’d never really been into sports but when the Olympians visited the school, I thought what they had done looked really interesting.

“I gave it a go and really enjoyed it. It is a difficult sport. You have to have really good balance because the boats are really unstable, you spent half your time in the water.

“It took me a long time for me to get good balance and it still isn’t perfect now but a lot better. The sprint championships were the first competition I had ever done so I was really pleased when I got the gold.

“I wasn’t expecting to do as well as I did, it was a great ­feeling.”

Fiona, whose younger ­siblings Michael, 12, and Claire, ten, both enjoy gymnastics, was helped by the city council’s Pathways into Sport award, which assists pupils to get qualifications and awards as well as access to specialist coaching and facilities.

Her next major competition will be at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham next year, where she will go head to head with the best female canoeists in Britain.

But first she will spend the winter training on and off the water in Edinburgh.

Eventually, Fiona, of Fairemilehead, hopes to compete in the World Championships and even the Olympics, which would be another first under current rules.

The sprint event has always been the domain of men, and has only recently been open to women.

The International Canoe Federation argued for years that women’s bodies are unsuited to the rigours of high-kneel canoe racing and more recently said there are not enough world-class female canoeists to merit inclusion in the Olympics. But it is hoped further pressure will mean the discipline will be included for women by the 2020 Olympics – when Fiona will be 21.

She added: “I would love to get a gold in the World Championships or the Olympics one day but it seems a way off yet.

“My plan is to keep ­training and keep competing and see where it takes me.” School instructor Cynthia, said Fiona’s achievements were already an inspiration.

She said: “Fiona is a great role model for other members of the club as well as other pupils in the school.”