New dad Heath planning perfect Olympic present for his toddler inspiration

Britain's Liam Heath celebrates on the podium after winning the K1 200m title at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Liam Heath knows there’s no better present for his toddler than another Olympic gold medal to play with, writes Nicola Kenton.

For Heath the birth of his daughter Sarah-Rose two years ago has given him additional motivation to strive to qualify for his third Olympic Games.

The 34-year-old canoeist, who secured gold in the K-1 200m in Rio, took some time off when his daughter arrived.

And after spending a year with the K-4 500m squad, Heath is relishing the opportunity to secure a qualification spot for the Olympics at the forthcoming World Championships.

“I’ve been hitting this year hard because it’s the qualifications for myself and the rest of the British team in Szeged, Hungary,” Heath said.

“It’s an incredibly important year because if you don’t qualify then no-one will be going to compete at the Games.

“It’s structured the same as the year before Rio in terms of the training and preparation because it’s worked before and we know what we’re doing. I’m just trying to keep things fairly consistent.

“But one thing that has changed with me is sport fitting in and around a different lifestyle.

“I became a father a couple of years ago, so having to manage life with a little toddler and training full-time has been quite tricky but completely doable with the help of friends and family around me.”

Heath made his Olympic debut in front of a home crowd in London, where he won bronze with Jon Schofield in the men’s K-2 200m.

Four years later the duo upgraded their medal to silver while Heath earned his individual glory.

And with a year to go until Tokyo, the sprint canoeist is buoyed by the potential for his daughter to watch him compete.

“An Olympic event is an absolutely amazing one and to go to my third would be incredible,” Heath added.

“It would be very special because of the support of my family who have almost made it possible.

“One of my driving forces is to compete at an event and have my daughter be able to watch me compete, that would be a strong motivation to want to get to my third Games.

“It would be incredibly special; my wife and my daughter are my biggest fans.”

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Heath’s journey towards Tokyo has been years in the making but one crucial aspect is the chance to defend his title.

However, the sprint canoeist has had a change in mindset about how he approaches replicating his success in Tokyo after a New Year chat with his coach.

“He told me that title always will be mine, I’ve won that and that’s going to be there forever,” he added,

“I’m not risking anything by going into another event and in fact going into another Olympic Games gives you an opportunity to win a second title.

“You’re not losing or defending it, you’re gaining another.

“That’s the mentality I have held going into most of my races this year because you feel that you are the one people are watching, so I’m just trying to focus on each race as they come along.”

(Only) One Year to Go. Follow the journey to Tokyo 2020 at TeamGB.com and @TeamGB