Tokyo Olympics: Scots canoeist Deborah Kerr eyeing medal to go with her tattoo

By Brian McLauchlinBBC Scotland
Deborah Kerr
World Cup bronze medallist Deborah Kerr hopes to make the podium in Tokyo
Olympic Games on the BBC
Hosts: Tokyo, Japan Dates: 23 July-8 August
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Deborah Kerr will have a permanent reminder of her Olympics debut inked on her body. Nothing would make the 23-year-old prouder than a medal round her neck to go with it.

The Scot is targeting the podium but admits she may never have made the cut for Britain's sprint canoe team had it not been for a soul-searching return home to Motherwell.

When lockdown first took hold in Britain last year, Kerr - who is studying for a sports science degree at Manchester Metropolitan University - returned to live with her parents in the Lanarkshire town.

Motherwell may not be a canoeing hotbed, but it proved the making of this gritty competitor.

"Coming home allowed me to take a step back, gain some perspective, and understand why I'm doing this," she tells BBC Scotland. "Being with my family, I thought 'I really want to make them proud' and I want them to see all of the sacrifices I'm making.

"There were a lot of dark mornings in the garage just doing lots of boring land training but the extra year to prepare has definitely been helpful for me."

A revitalised Kerr won World Cup bronze in the 200m in May, just two days after triumphing in the same event at the Olympic qualifier.

She will race in the K1 500m at the Olympics on Wednesday - having finished eighth in Tuesday's 200m final - and a small part of her home town will turn into a mini Tokyo.

"My parents are taking a week off work and will go into Japan time, they're also putting up bunting in the house," she said. "And I've got their permission, at the grand old age of 23, for the Olympic tattoo."

'I don't have much natural talent, I need to work hard'

Kerr, who took up the sport in her final year at primary school, missed out on qualifying for Rio 2016 and says the experience "lit the fire in me".

Two years earlier, she had been inspired by attending the swimming and triathlon during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

Dedication and graft have taken her a long way since she first took the plunge.

"I hated the canoe for the first few months until I stopped falling in all the time," she recalls. "Then I enjoyed being part of something different, but initially it was just a recreation.

"It's been a natural progression. I don't have much natural talent. I need to work really hard at things and I think that's what makes success all the sweeter."

Reflecting on her World Cup breakthrough in Hungary, she points to a new-found mental fortitude.

No longer fazed by jousting for glory with the elite, it's a mindset she hopes can pay off on the biggest stage of all.

"I've struggled with getting anxious before racing, but I've worked so hard to sort out my headspace over the past year," Kerr adds.

"I never thought I'd come out of the World Cup with a medal, so who's to say it can't happen again in Japan? I'm going into it confidently but with no expectations.

"I just want to race my absolute best and soak it up and enjoy it as much as possible because it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

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