Lisa Carrington

Lisa Carrington
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Lisa Carrington may be the world’s most dominant Olympian

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If Simone Biles is the world’s most dominant Olympic sports athlete, what does that make Lisa Carrington?

Carrington, a sprint kayaker from New Zealand, is undefeated in her sport’s splash-and-dash, the K-1 200m, since 2012 (one year longer than Biles’ all-around win streak). In 2014, she shattered a record set by her sport’s icon of icons — by more than one second in a 40-second race. And Carrington is coming off what she believes was the greatest performance of her career at the 2019 World Championships.

“Every six months she’s better than what she was in the preceding six months,” said her longtime coach, Gordon Walker.

Carrington, 30, is a 5-foot-6, 140-pound tower of power, her biceps developed through weighted chin-up sets.

She was born in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand’s North Island with a magnetic relationship to the water. Carrington came to kayak from competitive surf lifesaving in her mid-teens. She first joined team boats at world championships in 2009 and 2010.

In 2011, Carrington made her solo world champs debut. She won. After an early 2012 defeat, she is undefeated in the 200m. That includes two Olympic gold medals and another six world titles.

U.S. Olympian Maggie Hogan, who raced Carrington in the longer 500m event, said the 200m is not only the shortest race in the sport, but it should also be the most fickle. Carrington shatters that thought.

“It’s like running an 800m on a balance beam,” Hogan said. “You’ve got to be pretty skilled on the balance beam before you can apply all that power. What Lisa does very well is she maintains her stroke efficiency even at really high stroke rates.”

Hogan gave plenty of credit to Walker, whom she called “a guru.”

Carrington started her career focusing on the 500m, since the 200m was not on the Olympic program at the time. Walker became her coach at the end of 2010, when she began developing into a 200m sprinter, since the distance would debut at the Olympics in 2012. Walker said that, together, they chopped one second off her time in six months.

“Learning how to produce power,” Carrington said. “How to go fast rather than just slog it out and try to get as fit as possible.”

The improvement continued the rest of the decade with no major setbacks.

“She is five percent better,” than the field, said Walker, who counts strength-to-weight-ratio as a tenet. “So when she’s at the 200m mark, the others are at the 190m mark. It’s actually hard to comprehend the gap she has on the rest of the field.

“At no point in time is there any place in the race where somebody else is as good or better than her.”

Walker highlighted three competitions: Carrington’s defeat in 2012 before the streak began. Last year’s world championships. And the 2014 World Championships in Moscow.

Six years ago, Carrington had the 500m final, followed by the 200m about 90 minutes later. In the 500m, she got stuck at the start, her gate taking an extra half-second to open, Walker said. She passed everybody for the lead before falling back to silver.

“That fired her up,” Walker said.

In the 200m final, Carrington clocked the fastest time in history, taking more than one second off a mark set by German kayak legend Birgit Fischer 20 years earlier. The runner-up also bettered Fischer’s old mark, but was nearly a second behind Carrington.

“We had an amazing tailwind that day,” Carrington said. True, but she had been approaching Fischer’s time leading up to that competition and has since posted other times that would have broken the record.

“Birgit, you can argue she’s the most accomplished Olympian of all time, not just in our sport,” Hogan said of the eight-time gold medalist (all in 500m races) from 1980-2004. “I remember when Michael Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, newscasters talking about it and bringing up Birgit Fischer as an example.”

Fischer had the benefit of teammates within the deep German program, part of Olympic champion two- and four-woman events. Carrington is from a nation with no other female Olympic flatwater medalists.

“What Lisa did is equally as impressive [as Fischer],” Hogan said. “Is her career as long as Birgit? No, but I think what you’re seeing is a totally dominant athlete on the world stage, which is really uncommon these days because the field is extraordinarily deep.”

Carrington has branched out to the only other Olympic women’s distance, 500m. She won her first world title in the 500m in 2015, then took silver or bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 and 2018 Worlds.

Then came 2019. Carrington swept the 200m and 500m at worlds, winning each final by more than a second and a half. Her 200m margin — 1.94 seconds and the largest of her global championship career — was six tenths greater than what separated second place and ninth place.

“Historic, all-time events,” Walker said.

No woman has won Olympic gold medals in both the 200m and 500m, given the 200m debuted at the Olympics in 2012. The last man to do it was in 2000. Carrington, if she pulls it off in Tokyo, where she also plans to race the K-4 500m with three other Kiwis, might walk away.

“I kind of figured that I would just see how it would go at the Games,” she said while in lockdown last month, unable to train in the water or see Walker face-to-face. “I was happy to continue, and I was also happy to call it there.”

Carrington has never wanted to be famous. In New Zealand, an athlete can live a fairly normal life if they’re not on the All Black rugby team.

So maybe few know of Carrington’s penchant for do-it-yourself work around the house. She recently painted her whole perimeter fence.

Maybe few know about her Māori heritage from her dad’s side. She regularly wears a pounamu necklace. She has one tattoo — from high school — of a koru, or spiral wave representing continual movement and all of one’s life experiences.

What she doesn’t dwell on is the exact number of 200m races she’s won consecutively.

“It’s probably something I’ll look back on,” she said, guessing the streak is around 40. “Winning medals and doing the best opens a lot of doors, but, for me, being in it for so long, as much as it’s about winning or being the best, there’s a lot more to it.

“It’s not just settling for winning. It’s settling for finding my own best and my own potential.”

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Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps lead dominant Summer Olympians of 2010s

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s decade this week. Here are 10 of the Summer Olympic athletes (five American, five international) who dominated the last 10 years …

Simone Biles, United States
Gymnastics
Four Olympic gold medals in 2016
Record 25 World Championships medals

Biles is the only athlete on this list who competed at just one Olympics in this decade. That’s a testament to just how dominant she has been. Undefeated for six years in all-around competition. History-making winning margins. Four unprecedented skills among three apparatuses that are now named after her. Before Rio, teammate Aly Raisman was the first to say that Simone was competing in her own division. That was true four years ago, and it remains true going into the 2020s.

Usain Bolt, Jamaica
Track and Field
Six Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
First sprinter to sweep the 100m and 200m at multiple Olympics

Bolt followed his breakout and world records in 2008 and 2009 with impressive longevity through the end of his career in 2017. Bolt’s competition got faster in this decade — and he slowed slightly — but he was always the man to beat. Training partner Yohan Blake defeated him at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic Trials, only for Bolt to return the favor at the London Games. Justin Gatlin re-emerged in the next Olympic cycle, also handing Bolt a loss in 2013, but the Jamaican still swept the 100m and 200m at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and to complete his Olympic career in Rio.

Lisa Carrington, New Zealand
Flatwater Canoe
2012 and 2016 Olympic K-1 200m champion
At least one gold medal at seven different world championships in the 2010s

The queen of her sport’s splash-and-dash. Carrington won all nine Olympic or world titles in the individual 200m from 2011-19. She’s also added golds in the K-1 500m and K-2 500m at the world championships. In 2014, Carrington recorded the fastest 200m time in history, 37.898 seconds, which took more than a second off the 20-year-old mark held by German Birgit Fischer, considered by many the greatest female Olympian in history.

Ashton Eaton, United States
Track and Field
Two Olympic decathlon titles
Twice broke the decathlon world record

If the Olympic decathlon champion is still the world’s greatest athlete, then Eaton is going into the eighth year of his reign. The Oregon native opened the 2010s with a world championships silver medal at age 22 in 2011. Then he won every single global title, including indoor heptathlons, from 2012 through his retirement in 2016. Eaton’s personal bests in the 400m and the 400m hurldes (the latter not a decathlon event) would have made the Rio Olympic team.

Katie Ledecky, United States
Swimming
Five Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
World records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles

A 12-year-old at the start of the decade, Ledecky became arguably the world’s most dominant athlete for the 2010s. She was the youngest U.S. Olympian across all sports at London 2012 and brought back gold in the 800m free, upsetting British favorite Rebecca Adlington. Then Ledecky really turned it on, breaking 14 world records from 2013-18 and coining the Ledecky Slam — sweeping the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m free titles at one world championships in 2015.

Michael Phelps, United States
Swimming
Nine Olympic gold medals in the 2010s; 12 overall medals
Broke the record for career Olympic medals

Phelps’ prime came just before the start of the decade, with his eight Olympic gold medals in 2008 and last three individual world records in 2009. The 2010s were defined by comebacks — from ceding the title of world’s greatest swimmer to Ryan Lochte in 2010 and 2011 to outperforming his countryman at the 2012 London Games. From gaining 30 pounds in a 2012-13 retirement to becoming the world’s fastest butterflier again in 2014. From a DUI arrest, suspension, rehab stint and suicidal thoughts to become Team USA’s flag bearer in Rio, an Olympic team captain for the first time and end his Olympic career with five more gold medals.

Teddy Riner, France
Judo
Olympic heavyweight titles in 2012, 2016
Every world title from 2010 through 2017

Riner, a native of Guadeloupe, is a giant in his sport. Not just because he is 6 feet, 8 inches, and 290 pounds. But because he hasn’t lost a competitive match since September 2010. He is riding a win streak of around 150 matches, which includes skipping the 2018 and 2019 World Championships as he lightened his tournament schedule going into his fourth Olympics in 2020.

Svetlana Romashina, Russia
Synchronized Swimming
Olympic gold medals in all four synchro events in the 2010s
13 World titles across 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019

Romashina gets the nod over longtime duet partner Natalya Ishchenko, who retired after the Rio Olympics. Romashina also left the sport after those Games, but she came back to win three more world titles this past summer at age 29 (her first golds came in 2005, when she was 14).

Claressa Shields, United States
Boxing
Won four of the five Olympic and world titles this decade before turning pro
Lost one bout in the entire decade, while winning more than 80

Shields has been the face of Olympic women’s boxing since taking gold at age 17 in the sport’s debut at the 2012 London Games. The Flint, Mich., product followed up by sweeping the world titles in the next Olympic cycle and capping her amateur career with repeat Olympic gold.

Anita Wlodarczyk, Poland
Track and Field
Won five of the seven Olympic or world hammer titles in the 2010s
Recorded the 15 farthest throws in history

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017 before defeats the last two seasons and arthroscopic left knee surgery that kept her out of worlds in September. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history.

Honorable Mention: Mo Farah (Track and Field, Great Britain), Jin Jong-Oh (Shooting, South Korea), Laura Kenny (Cycling, Great Britain), Mariana Pajon (Cycling, Colombia), Maggie Steffens (Water Polo, United States), Christian Taylor (Track and Field, United States) and Kohei Uchimura (Gymnastics, Japan).

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly reported that Bolt won five Olympic gold medals in the 2010s. He won six, sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in 2012 and in 2016.

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