Jean's Olympic dream not sunk yet

March 30, 2020

There are more important things than the Olympic Games.

That’s the view of South African-born Gold Coast kayaker Jean van der Westhuyzen.

The Bond University Bachelor of Business student was mere days away from Australian selection before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed due to the coronavirus.

“It’s super disappointing. Four years of preparation, four years of training, four years of hard work, and now I am not going,” van der Westhuyzen said.

“I totally understand why we are not going and I think Australia as a nation is doing 100 per cent the right thing.

“But it is still disappointing. It would have been my first Games and my teammate that I’m paddling with, his first Games as well.

“Hopefully we can still make it a reality, albeit next year.”

It’s an incredibly mature outlook for a 21-year-old who has just had his lifelong dream shattered.

As a child, Van der Westhuyzen would stay up until the early hours of the morning in his hometown of Franschhoek, just outside Cape Town, to watch his hero Ken Wallace and other Australian paddlers compete.

He moved to the Gold Coast to study at Bond, but also for a better quality of life – and to train with his heroes at Varsity Lakes.

“I sacrificed a lot to get here, but so has my teammate and every other athlete,” he said.

“It’s a big shock, but so understandable.

“Above all else, everyone’s safety is of the most importance. It would be super selfish of us to say we have to carry on and go on with the Olympics.

“We need to realise that we must come together as a human race and do this together.

“People are facing greater struggles than not going to the Olympics. People are facing really tough financial struggles and we have to realise what is important.

“It’s all about perspective. Kayaking, the Olympics and every other sport, it doesn’t trump our health.”

Van der Westhuyzen – like all athletes -- now faces an uncertain future.

But the kayaker is buoyed by the fact his family have now joined him in Australia and they can continue their new life on the Gold Coast.

“It’s nice to have the family together. It’s nice that they are not halfway across the world and they are really happy to be here,” he said.

“There is a lot to be discussed moving forwards. Each year you take one step forward as an athlete when you put in that hard training.

“Do we train for nothing now? Usually you train towards a world championships or an Olympics.

"Now do we take a break? So we train? Can we even train? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered.

 “We need to get clarity in the next year to get the best result for Australia.”