Kayaking, Canoeing & Rafting

The Kimberley Woods Interview | Canoeing & Kayaking at the Olympics

Mpora talks to Team GB kayak and canoe athlete, Kimberley Woods about representing her country at an international level

At 20 years of age, Kimberly Woods is one of the bright stars of the British canoeing and kayaking scene. Currently on Britain’s senior team for both K1 kayak slalom and C1 canoe slalom, Kimberley has got her sights set on representing Britain in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Mpora caught up with her after a busy training session at Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire to find out what makes one of the best kayakers in the UK tick

Kimberley began canoeing at the age of 8, cruising the canals near her home town of Rugby. Today she holds both silver World Cup and gold European Championship medals for C1 but reassuringly she started out making the same rookie mistakes every beginner kayaker that most people do the first time they pick up a paddle.

‘I started canoeing in 2004 up in a little town called Rugby on the canals, and I’ve been in a boat ever since. Every time I fell in I would always pop my spray deck, even though I learned to roll in the swimming pool I was still falling in and pulling my deck. It took me a while to actually get used to rolling on white water. I remember the first time I rolled on white water it was pretty exciting. But now it’s just second nature. I fall in and I roll back up!’


With international success under her belt, Kimberley’s sights are now firmly set on representing her country at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. With that new focus and having earned a place on Britain’s senior team, Kimberley’s training has ramped up but she’s taking a measured approach to realising her dreams.

‘I think it will be more of an achievement to just be at the games to start with but then I’m taking it one step at a time I guess. The first step is to make the team.

‘Just getting into the Olympics in 2020 would be a big step because it’s a lot harder to get on to the Olympic team as there is only one place available. The selections this year for 2016 were very intense but I let the older girls fight it out because I thought “It’s not really my time yet”.

“Just getting into the Olympics in 2020 would be a big step”

‘Training has increased quite a lot with me being older now, being on the senior team and also moving down here to Lee Valley it’s ramped up a little bit more but we’re doing it at a pace I can cope with so I’m not overloading myself. I guess once the cycle comes in for 2020 and once it gets up to that year before it will be more intense and more stressful I guess!

‘In 2020 Senior women are being introduced into that Olympic cycle. It’s really exciting because it’s a new thing to the sport as well.

‘It’s going to be exciting to see where everyone is in four year’s time because it’s quite a big gap but then Britain has always been quite strong in its field so we’re hoping to keep that standard quite high.’


Alongside the training and fitness demands of her sport, Kimberley is also a full time student, taking a degree in Sports Studies at Hertfordshire University. It’s not easy but the secret seems to be keeping everything in balance and making at least some time to veg out in front of the TV.

‘It’s quite difficult actually because I’m in uni as well so I’ve not been a full time athlete yet. I’m hoping that once I’ve finished my degree, which will be after next year, I’ll be a full time athlete and can focus on canoeing all the time. It’s quite hard to fit in stuff for me but I’ve found the balance all right. I’ve worked with a performance lifestyle advisor that we have at British canoeing and we’ve worked together to find this balance and to find stuff that I can actually enjoy outside of canoeing as well.

“The best thing about canoeing is the inconsistency…it’s what makes the races exciting.”

‘I tend to just stick the TV on and watch my favourite programmes, I’ve gotten into quite a lot of programmes. I know a couple of people have taken up climbing too and I’m hoping once I get back into full training after my injury with my knee, that I’ll be able to join them. It’s quite ironic that I’m planning to relax from all the sport I do with more sport, but I’ve always been sporty and what I do enjoy is being sporty, not sitting around doing nothing.

‘It’s about finding that balance so you’re not overloading yourself. There are times in the winter when you have to get up early for a physical session, and no one likes physical sessions, but after you feel so much better for doing it that you want to do even more and you just keep going and pushing yourself through it.’

Photo: Lindsay Walsh

For Kimberley the biggest challenge of canoeing is also the reason she finds the sport so appealing. Its the unpredictable nature of white water that makes canoeing such a tough and rewarding sport.

‘The toughest thing about canoeing is dealing with the inconsistency. It can be uncontrollable. The weather can affect it so much and the cold can affect it but I think it’s sort of getting in your head that that’s not what you can control. What you can control is what you can do – the paddling you can control, but not if a boil comes up and ruins your edge or something. You’ve got to focus on what you can control rather than all the negative stuff around it.

‘The best thing about canoeing is also the inconsistency! Canoeing is an adrenaline filled sport. It’s so inconsistent but that’s what makes it exciting and that’s what makes the races exciting as well.

‘It’s fun to see other people deal with other situations that you can’t really control. It makes it quite exciting because you can be fine in one race and then completely different on the next one. You’ve got to find what makes you more consistent with the inconsistency of the water.’

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