Mallory Franklin brought herself to tears last week when questioning her place among the best of her sport. On Thursday, across 108 marvellous seconds, she found it on the second step of an Olympic podium.
It was some joy ride down the rapids of the canoe slalom, and it has been some journey for a shy 27-year-old from Windsor whose gift for paddling was subsequently matched by her candour.
With the former she was able to beat all bar the brilliant Australian, Jessica Fox, and with the latter she made an excellent contribution at the waterside to the ongoing conversation around the mental health of athletes.
Mallory Franklin claimed a silver medal in the women’s slalom after a terrific performance
It has been a prevalent theme of these strangest of Games and if Simone Biles reminded us that doubts exist beneath the most recognisable exteriors, Franklin offered an enlightening, important view of the lesser seen.
It was the view of those whose sports are unfamiliar but whose commitment is absolute.
The view of a former world and European champion who has given a lifetime to perfecting a pursuit and yet has regularly tormented herself about her ability to get through those stripy, dangling gates in good time.
In a little under two minutes in Kasai, on her Games debut, she proved herself magnificently wrong. In a little over 10 during interviews, she then captured quite perfectly what an Olympics mean to all who contest them. It probably explained why we love to watch the Games, too.
‘A week ago I think I just had a complete meltdown,’ she said. ‘I’ve been really good recently about regulating my emotions — in 2019 I’d end up in tears before every race, stressing about the outcome.
She navigated her way through some tricky turns as she stormed to the top of the leaderboard
‘I then ended up with a little bit of a meltdown last week of not knowing how to perform. All of this noise ended up with me in a position where I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m doing any more”.
‘But I bounced back and my last week’s been really positive and I was able to go canoeing and enjoy all my sessions, which is why I started canoeing. Being in that athlete village environment for the first time helped me realise every athlete is probably going through similar things. I saw Adam Peaty at breakfast and Tom Daley.
‘They are just people worried about whether they’re going to be able to perform and that settled me in terms of understanding everyone feels the stress and pressure. It’s really cool to know all the hard work and stress and tears a week ago, all of that builds to something where I know who I am.’
Who is she now? An Olympic silver medallist and a paddling testament to the benefit of simplifying the process, of remembering the basic joys behind complicated missions.
But Australia’s Jessica Fox simply had too much for her with the world No.1 racing to claim gold
Fox celebrates winning her first ever gold after a near-flawless performance on Thursday
Indeed, since that moment of realisation a week ago, when she remembered the value of enjoying her sport, the world No 2 has been formidable on the water. In real money that meant qualifying fastest for the semi-finals and then going through in sixth into the final of 10. This is where it got interesting.
The finalists set off in descending order — so 10th quickest qualifier went out first — and she watched on when the best of Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine and Austria all laid down their marks.
Then Franklin was up. She was out quick and cruising until the 15th of 25 gates, the toughest part of the course. She hit a pole for a two-second penalty, but the rest of the run was clean and fast. When she crossed, her time of 108.68sec was almost 11sec clear in the lead.
Four more women couldn’t get within two seconds of her, but then came the last, Jessica Fox — a three-time Olympic medallist and heavy favourite whose father Richard won 10 world titles for Britain way back when.
Her spotless run of 105.04sec got her a first gold and wrapped up her story, but Franklin added to her own charming tale, too.
Frankin was satisfied with her run to claim silver and said it felt ‘amazing’ to earn a medal
‘It’s crazy,’ said Franklin. ‘I don’t know when it will sink in, probably about five months knowing me.’
She’ll be married imminently and may now have a level of public profile, which interests her far less.
It was put to her that she might soon appear on A Question of Sport and the answer was delightfully in keeping with someone who, by her own admission, is reserved.
‘I remember when David Florence (the three-time Olympic canoeing medallist) did A Question of Sport he got a question about me wrong so at least I might do better than that,’ she said.
‘If they want an awkward person who can’t answer questions and just hides in her shell half the time then, yeah, sure.’
She did pretty well in her blue and grey shell on Thursday, to be fair.