Waiting on the start line of an Olympic final, sandwiched between the gold and silver medallists from Rio 2016, the gravity of the moment hit Deborah Kerr.

Twelve months ago, the canoe sprinter didn’t expect to qualify for the Olympics and it was only about a month before the Games began that she was officially selected for Tokyo 2020. 

But she made the most of the opportunity – finishing second in her semi-final of the women’s K-1 200m to mark her Games debut with an appearance in the final. 

Slotted into Lane 6 for the showpiece, to the Scot’s right was canoe sprint legend and soon to be three-time Olympic gold medallist Lisa Carrington, while to her left was the silver medal winner from Rio five years ago, Marta Walczykiewicz.

Welcome to the big time. 

Ultimately the 23-year-old from Motherwell, studying for a sports science degree at Manchester Metropolitan University, couldn’t quite live with her world-class opponents – crossing the line in eighth, 2.289s behind the victorious Carrington – but that didn’t dampen the experience. 

“I wasn’t nervous exactly but the gravity of the event, I really felt it there when I was lining up next to Lisa and Marta,” said Kerr. “Maybe not my best performance but I’m still happy. 

“It was quite surreal lining up next to Lisa. You just see her walking around, she’s my total idol, so it was really cool to be racing next to her. 

“It’s one of the few times I’ve raced against her. I think there might be a few more gold medals for her this week! I hope there is, she’s such a great competitor, and it’s really cool to have raced against her. 

“I’m absolutely delighted. It was always going to be tough to get into the final, so I’m really proud to have done it.

“This time last year, I wasn’t even expecting to be here, so to have ticked off one goal by reaching one final this week, it’s more than what I wanted.” 

While the reality of the level required to challenge for an Olympic podium may have been eye-opening, Kerr isn’t finished yet for these Games at the Sea Forest Waterway. 

She competes in the heats of the women’s K-1 500m – a slightly more nuanced event than the adrenaline-pumping ‘splash and dash’ of the 200m, which takes around 40 seconds. 

And Kerr is hoping to prove herself once again, with the eyes of the world watching on. 

“This year, my 200m has been stronger but I back myself for the 500 as well,” she added. “I put down a good performance at the World Cup and it’s going to be just as hard, probably harder, this time round. 

“We’ll just see – as long as I can put down a few decent races, I can leave happy. I haven’t set myself a target.

“I’d just like to do all the other girls who missed out on the 500 spot this year proud and show how strong we can be on such a big stage.”

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