Selma, a student in Pedagogical Sciences, is passionate about canoe sprinting, a sport she has been practicing since eight years old. She joined the national team at fifteen. “You use all your muscles: cardio with strength and technique. You can play with all these components to go as fast as possible from start to finish.”

Growing up, Selma was a fan of Lisa Carrington, a gold medal Olympic canoeist from New Zealand. Racing next to her in the Olympics is something Selma didn’t imagine she would ever be doing. “When I was younger, a picture of her was hanging above my bed and now, I’m racing next to her at the Olympics.”

Being in sync

Selma Konijn training at the gym Ronald van den Heerik
Selma builds muscle strength at the gym as part of her training for the Olympics. Image credit: Ronald van den Heerik

Canoe sprinting is more than just going full speed for 500 meters straight. “We start and take a good rhythm to the 300 meters. Then my teammate gives me a big push from the back and the last 100 meters we go all out, and we see where it goes”, says Selma. Being in sync with her teammate Ruth is an important part of canoe sprinting. “You can be very fast, but without teamwork, it is not possible to be good. You try to hit the water at the same time. She looks at me and I feel her movements, so we can be in sync together”, says Selma.

Qualifying for the Olympics was less of an excitement than Selma had anticipated. “I expected myself to be happier qualifying. You’re training for the Olympics your whole life and you do everything for it. Then you make it, and everything remains the same. You’re still just training for a competition.”

Babysitting, studying, coaching

What was overwhelming, was the intensity of her life, coming back home in May. “Now I feel much better and happy but at that point it was just too much”, she says. Before the qualification tournament, Selma was babysitting children with disabilities. Selma was also working on her pre-master and in the meantime, Selma was coaching students with a functional impairment. “I mostly work with students with ADHD. Last week I was still helping a student from the university finish their thesis.”

But now, she is putting those activities on a backburner and focuses more on ‘training, studying, trying to sleep enough and eat well’. Her daily routine is packed with early morning and late evening training practices, studying in-between, having meeting about the organisation of the Olympic trip and interviews. After her final exam, she plans to go to Poland and train for three weeks to prepare for the Olympics.

Making the top eight

Selma Konijn canoe sprinting with teammate Ronald van de Heerik
Selma and her teammate Ruth train together. Image credit: Ronald van den Heerik

On 6 August, Selma and Ruth will be racing at the Vaires-sur-Marne Nautical Stadium in Paris. Selma expects something similar to a normal competition at the Olympics, but she’s aware that that perception might change once she arrives in Paris. “I think some things will be different.” For one, around fifty people, family and friends, will come to Paris to support Selma. Gold in Paris isn’t to be expected yet, though. “Our goal is to make the final top eight”, she says.

But these Olympics will not be the end of Selma’s career as a canoeist. Higher goals are on the horizon. In October, Selma plans to go to Uzbekistan for the World Championships. “Something that I like about this sport is that I see it as an opportunity to discover the world.” After that, Selma will continue to train, with the goal to win the gold medal in the next Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 2028.

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