13 Oct 2023

Luuka Jones; 'I want to enjoy the experience of my last Olympic games'

11:30 am on 13 October 2023
New Zealand's Luuka Jones celebrates after winning the Women's finals Kayak cross, Paris, 2023.

New Zealand's Luuka Jones celebrates after winning the Women's finals Kayak cross, Paris, 2023. Photo: AFP

White water paddler Luuka Jones has ticked off her aim for the season, but for the second straight year she's had to do it tough.

It's been a rewarding month for the 34-year-old, who gained New Zealand a canoe slalom spot at next year's Olympics and then after 15 years of trying finally won her first World Cup title.

She's back home for a few weeks of rest and recreation to catch up with friends and family before she starts training for what she hopes will be her fifth Olympic appearance.

Jones missed all of the 2022 season with long Covid and this year was laid low for almost three months with injury and illness.

"I had eleven weeks this year where I couldn't train a lot so there were a lot of setbacks," Jones told RNZ.

"Therefore I'm really confident that if I can have a period of time where I'm injury and illness free then I'll be better than ever.

"I really trust my physiologists input into the programme and I think we have a really good approach."

Training smarter not harder this year resulted in a ninth place finish in the K1 event at the world championships, which was enough for an Olympic quota spot.

Then last week she won the kayak cross gold medal at the season ending Paris World Cup meeting.

Kayak cross, where four paddlers race down the course at the same time, will debut at the Paris Olympics next year.

It was a dream finish to what was another challenging year for Jones.

"I was definitely saddled with self-doubt this year when things weren't going my way.

"A change in training and a new coach, but it's working really well and [the result] shows the path I'm on is good and that I'm building back to a really good position.

Paddlers competing in kayak cross.

Paddlers competing in kayak cross. Photo: AFP

While K1 has always been her forte and where she won Olympic silver in 2016, Jones has been putting a bit of time into the kayak cross.

She'd been working on an advanced technique at the up stream gates, which not everyone is doing and obviously gave her an edge in Paris last week.

"It's a little bit risky but really pays off if you get it."

With the Olympics on the same course next year she feels she can take a lot of confidence into it.

Jones wants to compete at one more Olympics, especially after her Tokyo Olympic campaign in 2021.

"I put a lot of pressure and expectation on myself there and I really didn't enjoy it.

"So I'd like to enjoy the experience of my last Olympic games and if I'm in a good frame of mind and not expecting too much then I can achieve some great things."

Her intention is to spend as much time as possible on the course in Paris next year and will be made easier by the fact that her coach lives in the French capital.