Heath mulls retiring or switching event after Paris 2024 body blow

·3-min read
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20:  Liam Heath of Great Britain celebrates winning the gold medal in the Men's Kayak Single 200m Finals on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Lagoa Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: Liam Heath of Great Britain celebrates winning the gold medal in the Men's Kayak Single 200m Finals on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Lagoa Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Liam Heath won't be taking up breakdancing but the Olympic canoe sprint champion is prepared to change event after his discipline was cut from Paris 2024, writes Tom Harle.

The K1 200m, in which the Brit is reigning world champion and world record holder, has been dropped for men and women with extreme canoe slalom included.

Heath and British Canoeing have both signed open letters decrying the decision, claiming the ICF broke their own rules by bypassing its Congress to rush it through.

"There's been no transparency and no communication," said the 36-year-old.

"Everyone in the paddling community is unanimous in opposition to the way this has been done. There had to be a process in place to allow athletes to have their say.

"There's no-one against adding new events and the sport being more exciting. It had to be a longer timescale to allow athletes and funding systems to adapt.

"It's upsetting. I think 200m shows canoe sprint at its best, it's fast and explosive. It's something I've been working towards and have had a lot of success in."

Canoe New Zealand CEO Tom Ashley gave an insight into the process, telling NZ Herald: "it was a hasty decision made over a Zoom meeting in the course of a fairly quick conversation." Kiwi Lisa Carrington is the favourite for the K1 200m women's title and the body intend to contest the decision.

The ICF (International Canoe Federation) say they were blindsided by the IOC's November ruling that two medals would have to make way for the extreme discipline.

Tim Lodge, the chair of the ICF Athletes Committee, sat down with IOC sports directors and says he was met with stubborn 'determination' to keep the medal count at 310.

"I would have loved to have had a say," Heath says. "Everyone would have loved to have contributed something and understood but the ICF did it behind closed doors."

Team GB have won both available gold medals in men's K1 200m, with Ed McKeever topping the podium at London 2012 and Heath in Rio.

Changes to the Olympic canoe sprint programme are nothing new and Heath has already rallied younger athletes to embrace the opportunity.

His own future is up in the air and with a young family, retirement was already on the Guildford-born athlete's agenda before the announcement.

Heath started out in the K2 200m and competed in the K4 500m as recently as 2018 and a move to the newly-instated K2 500m is firmly on the cards.

"The question mark was there and I was probably leaning towards retirement anyway after Tokyo," said Heath.

"I'd love to have a crack at the 500m. My coach and I have had many discussions about what I'd be able to achieve over that distance, so my preference would be to head that if I do continue.

"Ultimately, I got the opportunity at 200m because of an (IOC) decision and I've had to change and adapt, so have all the athletes I've looked up to over the years."

Breakdancing's addition to the Paris programme has dominated the headlines with the IOC delivering on its promise to cut athlete numbers to 10,500.

There's no sour grapes from Heath, although you won't see him competing in the b-boy category any time soon.

"I'm not bitter about breakdancing - although I'm a terrible dancer, so no chance for me there," he said.

"This is a bit of a bad way to end a tough year but the Olympic dream is still very much alive."