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Kayaker has eye on medal
Sprint kayaker Alana Nicholls on the Swan River. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

Alana Nicholls has been keeping good company of late.

The names won't mean much to a lot of people but mention Hungarian Danuta Kozak, Poland's Marta Walczykiewicz, Ukraine's Inna Osypenko or Kiwi Lisa Carrington and the kayaking world stands to attention.

On August 9, Nicholls is determined to be mixing in that elite circle after gaining Olympic entry through recent performances that have elevated her to medal contention.

Over the past year of international competition, the 26-year-old Perth sprint kayaker has been a regular podium finisher at world cups in Europe, winning one in the K1 500m in 2011 in Racice, Czech Republic, and collecting two silvers and a bronze this year.

In Duisburg, Germany, in May, the energised former surf-ski champion won a silver in the K1 500m and a bronze in the K1 200m.

Despite her impressive form over the past 18 months, the WAIS-sponsored athlete can only muse about what might have been her one regret, missing a bronze by 0.06sec. at last year's world championships in Szeged, Hungary, in the 500m dash.

After a highly successful domestic season in Australia in 2008 and 2009, Nicholls took a step back to ponder the meaning of her kayaking life.

"I was pretty naive coming into the sport and didn't really understand how much time and effort it was going to take," she said. "I'd never really been introduced to this elite level sport.

"In 2008 I got quite good, quite quick and there was a lot of fuss about it. And 2009 was another good year when I came sixth at the world champs but I was not really enjoying it."

At 24, Nicholls quit the sport. "I wasn't going to come back at all but after watching the other girls at the world champs, I thought 'hang on a sec, maybe I really do want to be doing this'," she said.

Despite working full-time as a procurement officer with Chinese company CITIC Pacific Mining, Nicholls stamped herself as a potential London medallist after her fourth in the K1 500m, her favoured distance, at the world titles.

It has fuelled her dreams - which have been light-headed of late because Nicholls has been sleeping in an oxygen tent, climbing into bed at 7.30pm and watching TV for a while before nodding off.

While the prospect of an Olympic medal was as distant as Mars two years ago, Nicholls' recent form suggests she can collect a medal, especially in the 500m.