For Liam Jegou the Olympic dream started off with a nightmare, but he was good enough, classy enough and clearly composed enough to find redemption.
The 25-year-old canoeist missed a gate during his first run of the C1 slalom in Tokyo today, his penalty-stricken time of 174.57 placing him last of the 18 competitors.
Thankfully for him that didn’t spell the end, with the format allowing two runs during the opening round, the better of the two counting towards qualification.
Jegou bounced back in fine style shortly after, nailing his second run and losing only two penalty seconds, his time of 104.40 seeing him comfortably through to tomorrow’s semi-finals in 11th place.
“It’s a massive relief,” said Jegou. “I felt good this morning and my run was going perfectly to plan but then towards the end I completely lost my edge, fell in and missed the gate.
"Getting ready for that second run was very difficult, second runs are really nerve-racking, you’re playing your whole season, or the past five years, on that run so it was definitely a nervous moment on the starting blocks but I’m glad I put down a good enough run.
"I’m relieved I’m through to the semi-finals and I can fight another day.”
Jegou was hopeful of a better performance tomorrow.
“I’m confident I’m in shape, I feel great technically. I just need to free myself a bit more. Semi-finals are a different ball game to heats.
Jegou is only the second Irish man, after Mike Corcoran, to race C1 at the Olympics. He grew up in Ballyvaughan Co Clare but moved to France at the age of seven, when his French dad, a canoe instructor, got a job there.
Jegou won silver at the World Junior Championships in 2014, bronze at World U23s in 2019 and finished ninth at Europeans in 2019.
In November 2019 he became the first Irish paddler to win gold at a C1 World Cup event in Pau, France, which is where he is based. He was the first Irish team member announced so it was a long wait to get to this point.
“What a journey,” he said. “It’s been such a long time since I qualified and I guess that added to the pressure scenario at the start of the day.
"It’s the Olympics but it feels like a different kind of Olympics. That extra year has been really long for everyone and everyone is excited to compete here.
"I’m glad I can say I’m an Olympian now – it’s official and I’m looking forward to more tomorrow.”