Australia's silver Fox keeps it in the family

BECAUSE of the intervention of her father Richard 12 years ago, Penrith teenager Jessica Fox had a silver medal around her neck yesterday.

Without the former Great Britain Olympic representative and world champion, canoe slalom would almost certainly not be a sport at the London Games, let alone would Jessica have been standing on the medal dais.

In 1997, the Australian Olympic Committee planned to axe whitewater canoeing from the 2000 Sydney Olympics due to a lack of funding and facilities.

But a worldwide campaign headed by newly appointed national coach Richard helped save the event, with the construction of the Penrith Whitewater Stadium.

Advertisement Yesterday, all the tireless work and millions of dollars raised paid off in ways he could hardly have imagined, as 18-year-old Jessica produced the best run of her fledgling career to secure a medal in the K1 slalom final.

"That's why we ended up in Australia," Jessica's mother Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi said of their battle to keep slalom in the Olympics.

"It was our first Olympics with the team in Sydney.

"It was long before [Jessica] came into the picture [competitively]."

With a French mother and English father, Jessica smoothly transitioned between the two languages during the post-event press conference, speaking with confidence and maturity.

Jessica revealed she has had a membership to the kayaking association in Marseille since she was born, thanks to her grandfather.

But the young woman - who was dux of Blaxland High School and lists singing and swimming among her other talents - was proud as punch to be Australian standing next to the woman who beat her during the medal ceremony, France's own Emilie Fer.

She listened to the strains of La Marseillaise while wearing the green and gold tracksuit of Australia.

In the moments before her final run, Jessica could hear the crowd work themselves into a frenzy as Great Britain completed a memorable gold-silver quinella in the C2 men's event at the Lee Valley course.

The packed grandstands roared as she posted her time, perhaps knowing the connection to the host country because of her father. Jessica was only denied the gold by a truly special run from Fer, who stopped the clock just 0.61 ahead of her.

The family of Kynan Maley, who with Robin Jeffery was knocked out at the semi-final stage of the C2 slalom final, were among those that donated to Richard's cause to build the Penrith centre.

Maley and Jeffery, both from Western Australia, now live in Sydney and made the Olympics because of the facility available to them in Australia.

Richard's legacy is immense internationally. He's the second vice-president of the International Canoe Federation and has won five individual world championships and finished fourth in Barcelona in 1992.

Jessica was just six when she came to Australia with her parents, but her achievement yesterday signalled a long and successful Olympic future.

"We moved to Australia in '98 for the Olympic Games in 2000 and stayed ever since," she said.

"I guess I'm very lucky to be from Australia.

"I could have been [competing] for France or Great Britain, but Australia is my home now.

"Both my parents competing in the Olympic Games is something pretty special and [it] definitely inspired me to get to this position. Winning a medal is something that you dream and I'm proud to follow in [my mother's] footsteps."

Her mother won bronze for France in Atlanta.

Fox-Jerusalmi's great adversary, Czech veteran Stepanka Hilgertova, won the gold in 1996, but yesterday Jessica turned the tables on the now six-time Olympic veteran, who finished fourth.

"She's an amazing competitor," Jessica said of 44-year-old Hilgertova.

"She came fourth at her sixth Olympics, that's amazing."

In the dizzying moments after stepping down from the dais - the large silver disc fumbling around in her hands like a child's new toy on Christmas day - Jessica playfully took pleasure out of surpassing her mother's Olympic success.

"I hadn't thought about that yet, but now I have silver and mum got bronze, that's kind of cool," she said.

"I beat her, but it's a different time in a different race, so I can't really compare."

Myriam, as her mind was racing and her face was beaming with pride, said Jessica's age means her daughter could one day be remembered as the greatest of them all in the Fox clan.

"She's better than I was," Myriam said.

"Of course she has learnt from our experience.

"There's not another 18-year-old in the world that's of her standard."

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