Olympic kayaker Jaimee Lovett is hanging up her paddle, retiring from the sport after ten years of toil and two years of world-class performances.
The 28-year-old played an anchor role in the historic New Zealand women’s K4 that finished fifth in Rio last year, confirming their place at the elite level of the sport.
Lovett, however, is leaving her teammates to carry on towards Tokyo in 2020, content with what she’s achieved.
“When you’re pouring your heart and soul into sport, you always need a desire to be better and leading into Rio, I was paddling better than I could’ve ever thought possible,” Lovett explained. “When I came back to training late last year, knowing how much work I needed to get back to that level, the desire to be better just wasn’t there. I’d peaked - I’d got to the top of my mountain - and I didn’t want to climb another one. I’m proud of what I achieved and that’s enough for me."
Together with Caitlin Ryan, Aimee Fisher and Kayla Imrie, the Whakatane-raised kayaker helped take an untested, inexperienced K4 boat within inches of an Olympic medal in just 18 months together, collecting world cup gold in Portugal in 2015 and bronze last year.
That success made her retirement decision a lot easier for Lovett, having proved to herself what she was capable of, and capping an international career that began at the 2007 Youth Olympic Festival in Australia.
Ryan, Fisher and Imrie will continue with the national high performance programme, run by New Zealand women’s coach Rene Olsen, where they’ve been joined by an enlarged squad of talented younger paddlers coming through.
“It’s exciting and we’re in a really good position,” Lovett said. “We’ve got three world-class coaches (Olsen, Gordon Walker and men’s coach Fred Loyer) and building some solid programmes with a group of athletes who are really keen to get stuck in. You can see the athletes going after it themselves, rather than waiting for it to happen.”
Canoe Racing New Zealand boss Mark Weatherall paid tribute to Lovett’s contribution to the sport.
“Jaimee’s maturity and work ethic have been inspirational, not only for her teammates but also to the next generation of paddlers coming through,” Weatherall said. “I’ve personally seen her develop from a shy teenaged surf lifesaver from Whakatane to a universally-respected, world-class canoe sprinter. She’ll leave a big hole in our sport but it’s a privilege to have worked with her.”
Lovett’s immediate plans now are fairly uncomplicated - she intends making the most of the New Zealand summer, before joining partner Shea McAleese - the veteran Black Sticks midfielder - in Europe where he’s contracted in the off-season.