Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull are set for the Olympics as part of the kayak team. Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily
Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull are set for the Olympics as part of the kayak team. Photo: Warren Lynam / Sunshine Coast Daily Warren Lynam

Chatterbox kayakers are a force to be reckoned with

FIVE-minute warning.

Earphones in, athletes stand in complete silence; a stark contradiction to what’s going on inside their head.

You can cut the tension with a knife as they run through every move they will make in the coming minute-and-a-half.

Some jiggle and jump around. Others are statue-still.

But it’s the giggles and smirks from the two in green and gold that steal your attention.

Two-minute warning.

The girls chat, but not about how they’re going to win; more likely what they had for breakfast or last night’s movie.

They are the epitome of cool, calm and collected, and to other athletes stressing up to their eyeballs before a race, it’s annoying as hell.

But don’t be fooled by their seemingly carefree attitude. It may be this easygoing competition style, combined with solid training and a few spoonfuls of talent, that has Sunshine Coast kayakers Alyce Burnett and Alyssa Bull packing their bags for Rio, but it’s their ability to snap on their game faces at go-time that makes this pair a force to be reckoned with.

In just over 100 days, they will be hearing the five- and two-minute race warnings as they line up to represent Australia in the women’s 500-metre kayak (K2) at the 2016 Olympics.

For both athletes, it’s a dream come true.

“It hasn’t even sunk in yet,” 23-year-old Alyce said.

“I mean, we know we’re going – we’ve signed the documents and tried on the uniforms, but until we get there I don’t think it will feel real.”

It comes off the back of two wins at national trials in Adelaide and Perth which secured their spots on the Australian squad.

Taking out the Grand Prix Regatta in February was a huge achievement, but they knew only half the job was done.

When they crossed the finish line at the National Sprint Championships in Perth in May – more than a boat length in front – that’s when the disbelief set in.

“I sit in the back of the boat so when I can’t see a boat next to us, that’s a big deal, and I saw that 50 metres out from the finish line,” Alyce said.

“When we knew we had won we just went completely silent.

“We were going to Rio.”

Not bad for two girls who only met in January this year.

Alyce said neither of them had found a K2 partner they had really meshed with, until that day.

“Alyssa was back on the Sunny Coast for a weekend so we jumped in a K2 and we just looked at each other and were like ‘this is amazing’,” she said.

“The K2 is probably the hardest boat to paddle because if there are any inconsistencies with you and your partner, it really shows, so you really need to find someone who paddles identical to you, which is difficult.”

But that’s exactly what the girls found with each other.

“We’re both lanky endurance beasts and we get on really well, so it’s perfect,” Alyce said.

Both self-confessed chatterboxes, the girls have this to both their advantage and disadvantage. “Our biggest weakness is probably keeping concentrated,” Alyce said.

“Leading into races it’s a strength because it keeps our minds off it, but at the same time it’s hard for us to turn on. But that’s what we’ve been working with our psychologist on, so we’ve found the middle ground.”

While the Olympics has always been the dream, it wasn’t necessarily kayaking that they thought would get them there.

Both hailing from surf lifesaving backgrounds, the pair thought the only way they would ever reach the Olympic stage would be if that became a Games sport.

Alyce started kayaking to improve her paddling for the surf sports, and Alyssa just gave it a crack for something to do on the side of her surf training. But once they were on the water, their suitability to the sport was undeniable.

“I was 15 or 16 when I made the first junior team,” Alyce said. “We went to Russia and I was a massive rookie and didn’t really understand kayaking. I was in a K4 team and we went horribly, but that really opened my eyes and it was a real turning point for me – everyone was so big and strong. These were 17-year-old girls with six-packs, massive biceps and veins everywhere.”

Alyssa’s switch to kayaks happened when she saw one of her sporting idols, Naomi Flood, on television.

“I just saw her on the tele and thought it looked pretty cool and jumped in my first kayak in 2012,” Alyssa said.

“I first made the junior nationals team, and then the 23 (years team) after that. In my off-season I got a phone call from the head of the senior women’s team who said, ‘We’d like to have you do this full-time and help get these girls to Rio’.

“So I had a chat to my swimming and surf coach and she said if the Olympics was where I wanted to be, and surf wasn’t an option, then this allows me to do both – the best of both worlds.”

The now 20-year-old traded in her surf lifesaving at the end of 2014 to focus on her kayaking. Both now live on the Gold Coast and train at the Australian Institute of Sport.

Between now and Rio, the duo will compete at two World Cups in Germany and the Czech Republic in May as their final dress rehearsals before Brazil. And when they get back home it will be heads down, sprints on as they prepare for the race of their lives.

“That’s when we’ll get seriously into training and making sure we’re in perfect form come the Games,” Alyssa said.

“We work hard, and we’re not afraid to work hard.”

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