It seemed as if New Zealand canoeing’s glory days of the 1980s might never be repeated until 2003, when Ben Fouhy turned up seemingly from nowhere and won the world K1 1000 title in Gainesville, Georgia.
Ben who? It generally takes years for an athlete to climb to the top of a sport, but the 24-year-old Aucklander did it almost overnight.
Taumarunui-born Fouhy had a background in multi-sports events, with a preference for cycling.
In 2002 he dipped his toe into the waters of competitive canoeing, mainly at domestic level, but still his world title shocked nearly everyone, especially the world’s other leading canoeists. It earned him the Halberg Award for Sportsman of the Year.
Fouhy also combined with Steven Ferguson (former paddling champion Ian Ferguson’s son, and a former Olympic swimmer) to finish fourth in the K2 1000 at Gainesville.
All eyes turned to the 2004 Athens Olympics. Fouhy won the English K1 1000 title, so his lead-up form was good. At Athens he won his heat and paddled well in the final, but was edged out of the gold medal by Norwegian legend Eirik Larsen. Fouhy and Ferguson made the K2 1000 final, but finished last.
The Olympic silver medal, which would have delighted most competitors, was a disappointment to Fouhy, who for a time contemplated giving away his sport and turning to cycling. Finally he decided to have a crack at the canoeing at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
He continued to rank among the world’s best paddlers. At the 2005 world championships in Zagreb, Croatia, he was fourth in the K1 1000, and won a consolation bronze medal at the world marathon championships in Perth.
At the 2006 World Championships, in Szeged, Hungary, Fouhy was back on the podium with the bronze medal in his specialty event. During his 2006 European season, he also recorded the fastest ever time for the K1 1000 3min 24.495s – during a World Cup regatta in Poznan, Poland.
Into 2007 and with the Olympics looming, Fouhy placed fifth in the K1 1000 world championship in Duisburg, Germany. Then he gave himself a good workout at the 2007 pre-Olympic regatta in Beijing, taking the silver medal in the K1 1000, fourth in the K2 1000 and fifth in the K2 500, the last two events with Steve Ferguson.
At the Beijing Olympics, Fouhy paddled well, but was edged out of the medals. British paddler Tim Brabants snatched the gold medal from Norway's Eirik Veraas Larsen, with Australian Ken Wallace third.
Fouhy retired from the sport briefly in 2010 after a public falling out with some leading coaches and administrators. However, he returned and trained well for the 2011 world champs in Hungary, where he hoped to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. Fouhy duly made the K1 1000 final, but finished ninth, with only the top eight qualifying directly.