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Gibson gets the balance right as she heads to World Championships

26 September 2017
University of Edinburgh scholar, Eilidh Gibson, is in France for the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.

University of Edinburgh scholar, Eilidh Gibson, is in France for the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.

The University of Edinburgh’s Eilidh Gibson will compete in her third ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships at the spectacular venue of Pau this week following a well-balanced juggling act between studies and sport.

The Kinross 21-year-old finished twelfth in the 2014 World Championships and fifth in 2015.  Last summer no race was held in favour of the Rio Olympics, so Gibson is keen to test herself against the best.

“I’m super happy with my paddling,” said Gibson who, at this month’s British Open in London, finished third in the women’s C1 behind her world-beating team mates Mallory Franklin and Kimberley Woods.  But for one touch of a pole Gibson would have been second.

“That gives me a lot of confidence to know that if I can be up there with them then I can definitely be up there on a world stage.

“I do feel I’m in good form.  I’m on 12 weeks in a row of no sessions lost to injury which for me is just unbelievable.

“I’d love to make the final but apart from that I’ve been working on really focusing in on the process of racing and hopefully I’ll paddle to the best of my ability.  If I do that I’ll be happy with wherever I come.”

Gibson is the GB slalom team’s only full time student.  Now, at the start of her fourth and final year of Biomedical Sciences, she knows it will get harder before she can devote herself to the sport full time at the GB slalom team’s base in London. 

“Going back to fourth year is going to be very challenging,” she admits. “Ideally I want to be based in London, so if I studied part time I would just delay the time I get coaching, physio, gym and world class white water all in one place in the high performance centre.

“But I’ll be finished studying in May 2018 which is a year and a half before Olympic selection and two years before the Olympics.”

That will still be time enough in the current Olympic cycle for her to reach her potential for Tokyo 2020 which will see women’s C1 included for the first time. 

Although Gibson is determined it will be her that takes the sole women’s C1 position when the British team is eventually selected, she will be up against three of the best in the sport, her London-based team mates Franklin, Woods and Jasmine Royle.

“It massively drives me forwards having athletes of their level in Britain to race against and train with occasionally; it’s such a good goal to be driving towards them,” explained Gibson. 

“There’s no sitting back because I know where I want to be and it can be disheartening if you’re always getting beaten but equally you’re always getting beaten by the best in the world. 

“What they are exceptionally good at is delivering it almost every time and I’m obviously not there yet. But to have them in Britain is really important and I definitely would prefer that than to be the only one.”

Gibson is one of 150 students supported by Winning Students, Scotland’s national sports scholarships programme for student athletes.  Through it she receives funding support and the academic flexibility required to perform at the highest level in sport and studies.

Eighteen Scottish universities and 25 colleges form the Winning Students network with the programme being funded by the Scottish Funding Council. Students at network colleges and universities benefit from a dedicated co-ordinator to ensure they can balance their studies and sport effectively.

Being a full time student does have its advantages for Gibson who is making the investment in her education before becoming a full time athlete.  And when she does so it’s highly likely she will continue studying, though probably part time.

“It helps my canoeing to have another stimulus for my brain,” she explained.  “So with the end of university approaching, I will definitely have more projects and I’ve been thinking about studying a part time masters.

“The last few years have given me the practice of knowing how to get the balance and I’ve learnt so much from being a student.

“Being based away and doing things on my own in terms of self-coaching and how to pick myself up mentally when there’s not a coach on the bank to help, will bode really well, not just for these Olympics but for my whole career as an athlete.”