Fox's fairytale: Jess' Hollywood story which ended with Olympic gold

Just more than 18 months ago, Jessica Fox was treading water in her canoe, in her parents' backyard pool, anxiously awaiting news of whether the 2020 Tokyo Games would go ahead.

She'd been off the whitewater for the longest stretch she could remember; like many in Australia and around the world at the time, she was in home isolation as the COVID-19 pandemic picked up legs - patiently completing workouts with her strength coach via Zoom, and trying her hand at (and sometimes failing at) 'iso baking'.

Fast forward just more than a year, and Fox -- a K1 silver medallist at London in 2012 at just 18 years of age, and a bronze medallist in Rio four years later -- emotionally completed her collection, winning gold in her favoured C1 and also winning bronze in the K1, while Australia -- at home -- watched on in awe, and through tears.

Fox's story has been an easy one for Australians to appreciate. Storming onto the scene as the teenage daughter Richard and Myriam (both excellent canoeists in their own right - Myriam won a bronze medal from France in 1996), Fox was a surprise and humble London Games silver medallist with a beaming smile.

Playing like a Hollywood thriller, her career has at times been a self-described "rollercoaster" - the past two years in particular. From not knowing whether the Tokyo Games would go ahead, to having to isolate in Australia while her competitors could get onto the water, to the anticipation of her first event -- a K1 run in which she admits she fell short of her own expectations -- Fox's Tokyo story was hurtling towards a box-office ending.

One which, upon reflection, was only ending one way. With the hero winning the gold medal.

But as Hollywood scripts go, the finish wasn't going to be without the requisite drama.

Speaking to ESPN, Fox admits she hadn't watched her bronze K1 run until the director of Jess Fox: Greatest to Gold -- a short documentary about her Olympic campaign which aired on Network 7 last weekend -- passed her a tablet and asked her to share her thoughts.

"I was like 'oh damn you, I'm not ready yet' (to the director), but no, it was a good exercise and actually it made me realise that it felt a lot worse than it looked," Fox tells ESPN of the run, in which she touched two gates.

"Even if you don't feel good you still want to be pushing and that whole run in the kayak felt like a battle from start to finish, and I was like 'I'm not giving up' but you really feel that.

"Then watching it back was interesting because it didn't look as bad as it felt, but yeah, I haven't watched it and I probably won't watch it again, I feel like I don't need to."

Cue the conflict in the script.

Her father, Richard, who was commentating for the Seven Network at the time, noted in the documentary that "she emptied her tank in that moment - all her energy, emotion was gone."

Fox made mention of how the framing of her bronze medal was portrayed by some networks. "Jess Fox misses gold", it said. Fox burst into tears when she saw that, and it took her back to her maiden Olympic medal in London.

"I remember in London [the swim team had similar experiences with medals being deemed 'failures' in the media]. I won silver and for me that was an amazing achievement -- a dream come true --- and I remember the first reporter I spoke to said 'you were 0.6 seconds from the gold medal, how does it feel to be that close and miss the gold?' like, 'I was 0.3 from the bronze, I'm stoked with this!'" she tells ESPN.

"I think with the bronze in Tokyo it was a little bit different because obviously, it wasn't my best run ... in saying that, I was also rewarded with a bronze medal for all the hard work that I've put in and I was still able to get on the podium with mistakes.

"I think it's all about how you frame it and how you approach a situation like that, and the media, that's how you get headlines right? I don't hold anything against them but they just need to know the backstory because for the athletes who have actually done a PB performance or an amazing achievement and won a silver or bronze, well you can't say they missed gold, you say they won medals."

Between the K1 final and the C1 final, it was her father who helped pull Fox out of her malaise. A text message refocused Fox, and it's little surprise she credits her family with helping her through every part of her paddling story.

"They've been such a huge part of my journey, and I think I never would have gotten to that point without them and I sometimes wonder, if Dad hadn't have sent me that text that helped me switch into a better mindset, it might have been a very different story as well on [the C1 run]," Fox admits.

As it'll go down in the history books, Fox -- under immense pressure as the favourite -- produced a run for the ages, blitzing the competition in the C1 final to secure the elusive gold by more than three and a half seconds. And as the post-race footage showed, it was Fox's family who was first to celebrate with her.

On the course in Tokyo, mum Myriam and sister (and training partner) Noemie were present, and in the studios where Richard was commentating, emotions were high.

"They celebrated this medal, it's such a family medal, and both my parents having competed at the games -- Dad was fourth, Mum was third -- they never quite achieved their dream of winning the gold but to see me achieve it I think is amazing for them and for us it's definitely a family achievement," Fox tells ESPN.

But it was in the loungerooms of Australians where Jess once again had a profound impact on a nation entranced. She says she had no idea what it meant to the Australian public - at a time when many throughout New South Wales and Victoria were unable to leave home during a brutal and unrelenting lockdown.

"It was probably not until I got home and sort of turned my phone on and saw the blowing up and the number of people who have told me since then 'oh you made me cry' or 'I was in my living room screaming at my TV' and 'I'm so happy for you' ... you don't realise the impact, or, we as athletes didn't realise the impact the Olympics were having on people back home.

"It is truly special to hear all of that and knowing that so many kids were watching the Olympics, we were all those kids back in 2004 and 2000 watching the Olympics, so it's so exciting and very, very special to now be home and be able to share that with people, and yeah, [I've] never cried so much, that's for sure.

"It's been amazing to see the outpouring of support and love, and just interest in my sport and in my story."

But the question film enthusiasts might be asking is: is there a sequel in store for our hero?

"I'm always searching for improvement, and it's not so much about getting the K1 gold now, it's just about how can I keep being better. I'd love to have another crack at it in Paris - and it's only two and a half or three years away now, it'll come around so quickly."