Lisa Carrington has travelled a well-worn path on her way to winning world and Olympic kayaking titles. Like many leading paddlers, including multiple Olympic gold medallists Ian Ferguson, Paul MacDonald and Alan Thompson, she was already a good surf lifesaver when she turned to kayaking. Carrington made the switch exceedingly quickly. She won the 2011 world K1 200 title at Szeged, Hungary, shortly after she turned 22 and a year later was an Olympic champion. Carrington, of Ngati Porou and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki descent, was born in Tauranga in 1989. She grew up in the small Bay of Plenty town of Ohope and attended Whakatane High School, where her main sports were netball and volleyball, though she increasingly found herself attracted to sports involving water. “We lived by the beach and it didn’t take me long to get into surf lifesaving. I made the Bay of Plenty team and the national development squad and won some medals at the nationals,” she said. She was a member of the Whakatane Surf Lifesaving Club and later moved to the Mt Maunganui club. “I’ve always loved sport and used to watch the Olympics on television and think how great it would be to compete. One of my earliest memories was seeing Danyon Loader win those swimming gold medals in Atlanta. After that Rob Waddell, Hamish Carter, the Evers-Swindells, Sarah Ulmer, Mahe Drysdale, Val Adams…they were all inspiring.” Her Olympic dream moved a step closer where she got into kayaking. “Dad heard about a kayaking camp and when I went there, I really enjoyed it.” Kayak followers had sensed the powerful Carrington was a coming force for several years. She began kayaking in 2006 and the following year competed at the Australian Youth Olympics. By 2009 she was in the New Zealand open team and gained good experience at a succession of World Cup meets. She was coached by Gordon Walker, a multi-sport guru with Coast to Coast victories under his belt. For some years she raced the K2 500 with long-time team-mate Erin Taylor, and then branched out into the K1 200 sprint. Carrington and Taylor made the K2 500 world championship final in 2011, but it was in the individual sprint that Carrington really excelled. The race is kayaking’s equivalent of the 100m sprint on the track, or the 50m “splash and dash” in the pool. “It’s all over in 40 seconds, so there’s not much room for error. It’s really important not to make a mistake. You’ve got to focus on doing the little things right, and not worry about the outcome. I get nervous, of course, but I’m quite calm, and that’s important in a race like the K1 200.” Carrington finished second in a K1 200 grand prix event in Sydney in January 2011, and four months later produced a stunning winning effort in a World Cup round in Duisburg, Germany. Then it was on to the world champs in Hungary. Though she had no world ranking going into the championships, she easily won her heat and semi-final, before beating the silver medallists from the previous two world championships, Poland’s Marta Walczykiewicz and Ukraine’s Inna Osypenko. Her winning time was 39.998s, and she won by nearly half a second, which in sprint kayaking terms is enough time for a cup of coffee. “I wasn’t necessarily expecting to win, so it was a pleasant surprise, very cool.” The K1 200 race was a new Olympic event in 2012. In her first-round heat, Carrington finished a comfortable second behind a major rival, Hungarian Natasa Dusev-Janic. Into the semi-finals, she upped the tempo and her time of 40.528s was the fastest of any of the three semi-final winners. With a large New Zealand contingent cheering her on, Carrington took charge of the final. In conditions that were not ideal, she won in 44.638s, well ahead of second-placed Osypenko, who was timed at 45.053s. To win an Olympic sprint final by the best part of half a second was an outstanding performance by the popular New Zealander. In the K2 500, Carrington and Taylor were a comfortable third in their heat. They earned a berth in the final when they were fourth in their semi-final. The pace in the final was too hot for them and they finished seventh of eight, still a commendable effort. Carrington was suddenly the hot young name in world kayaking. She confirmed her class by retaining her world K1 200 crown at Duisburg in 2013 and added a bronze medal in the K1 500 event.
Carrington was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2013 New Year honours list. In both 2012 and 2013 she was named Maori Sportsperson of the Year.