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David Florence paddling in a canoe

Lessons in innovation from the Olympic podium.

Triple Olympic medallist David Florence describes how constantly innovating across his training methods and boat design allows him to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

Nobody can afford to stand still

Things change all the time and the sport moves on so quickly that the level you must perform at accelerates both in the technical sense and on the physical side of things. The margins by which competitors are cutting to the gates have become much tighter. The sport has developed with the athletes and the courses are now set up harder which you need to adapt to, while the boats can turn more quickly and are more responsive too.

Exploring new waters

A recent innovation I’ve introduced to the sport is that for a long time it was considered fastest to paddle on just the one side but I thought if you could get as good on both sides there’s potential to improve performance by switching for some of the technical moves on what we call our ‘offside’. I tried it earlier this year at the Australian Open and paddled the last six or seven gates on my left-hand side, my ‘offside’, on the way to winning the race.

Innovation versus Business as Usual

The concept has been tried before but not at this level. Some of my rivals are copying the idea but it’s so time-consuming. I’ve had it on the backburner as a project for the best part of a decade but you must try and balance your long-term goals with your short-term aims. Innovating like that takes me away from my regular training and it’s not going to reach the required level to benefit me for a long time so it’s a difficult balance to strike. You need to put enough time into a new idea to develop it but not so much that your current performance levels are affected.

Technical innovations

Boat design has certainly changed. I get involved but not to the degree that some of the other athletes do. For me, it’s a balance again, between looking at potential new ideas and designs but not allowing it to become a distraction. What you do, of course, is keep a close eye on your competition, seeing what they’re changing design-wise. I have a manufacturer as a sponsor and what we’ve done over the years is evolve the design rather than go for a revolution at any stage. That tends to eke out the marginal gains which go unseen to the naked eye but can make a huge difference in top-level competition.

Using data wisely

I’ve spent a lot of time in the gym over the years and things have moved hugely from when I started. We have a full-time physical trainer who’s really on top of the latest research and insights and we keep track of each weight I lift every day. We can then look at what’s working for me and adapt as required. We collect a huge amount of data but you can almost have too much - it becomes overwhelming. My approach is to make sure we’re using the top-line data effectively first, before we delve down into the more granular stuff. So, I ask: what is most relevant data for me to improve my performance and focus on using that to find areas we can target for improvement.

Three-time world canoeing champion David Florence - sponsored by LR

Follow David’s progress as he aims for a fourth consecutive Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020 across our social channels.

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