Australian 200 metre sprint specialist Callum Dunn will be looking to put the disappointment of just missing Olympic selection behind him when he carries the team flag at the opening ceremony of the U23 and Junior Sprint Canoe World Championships in Belarus this week.
23-year-old Dunn, who is competing at the under age championships for a fifth and final time, went within one place of qualifying for this year’s Rio Olympics, and is now determined to leave U23 racing on a high.
And with these World Championships taking place so close to the biggest multi-sport event in the world, Dunn can’t help but be pumped.
“In a way it is bitter sweet as I missed out by a spot on the team to Rio, but the spot is filled by the best 200m paddler Australia has ever seen,” Dunn said this week.
“Steve (Bird) is in career best form and I’m pretty excited to see how he will go after training with the Brits over the last few months.”
‘This certainly hasn’t deterred me at all and I would definitely love for that to be me in Tokyo. It has been my dream to represent Australia at the Olympics since I was young.”
“Just missing out has hurt, but being so close has given me confidence that with an extra four years I’ll be able to fulfill a dream.”
Dunn will head to Rio with his parents after the World Championships, where he’ll watch, among others, the man who inspired him back in 2008 to follow a career in kayaking.
“The year I started kayaking was when the Beijing Olympics were on, and watching Kenny (Wallace) and the K4 girls come away with medals and the jubilation that followed won me over,” he said.
Dunn came to kayaking after being introduced to the sport at a talent identification camp. He admits he barely knew of the sport, and was looking at swimming or athletics as the pursuits where he could make his name.
But thanks to the heroics of Wallace et al, Dunn decided to dip his paddle in the water, and he hasn’t looked back since.
It’s meant putting a few other important things on hold, but on the flipside it’s introduced him to pastimes that are going to make him a very popular member of touring teams.
“For the past year and a half I’ve taken the time to just focus on kayaking,” he said.
“Ever since I started kayaking I’ve been in school or studying at Uni. I completed my degree in Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering in late 2014 and decided I wanted to focus on kayaking as it makes up such a large chunk of my life, and I also wanted to give trying to make Rio the best shot I could.
“I’ve furthered my programming knowledge in engineering, taught myself to draw, taught myself to play the guitar, ukulele and piano.”
Getting himself in tune off the water has also helped him get in tune on the water.
“It was great to have that sole focus rather than juggling a busy schedule, and I actually jumped from 7th in the K1 in 2014 to 3rd in 2015 and eventually 2nd in the K1 in 2016, as well as improving my k2 200 results,” Dunn said.
While the ukulele and the piano are among his instruments of choice for self improvement, he turns to music much more confronting when he’s preparing for an event.
“When it comes to dealing with those nerves, my main remedy is definitely music,” he said.
“I’m a fan of pretty heavy bands such as Parkway Drive, The Amity Affliction and Northlane, and I generally have a playlist designed to use those nerves to pump me up.
“I think one of my strengths is my mental toughness during racing, and that I rise to the occasion and pull out my best races when I’m most nervous. The nerves generally relate to the race being important to me, so the more important the race is, the sharper I am.”
Australia will have a 24-strong squad competing in Minsk this weekend, many who will be dreaming that in four year’s time they’ll be competing against the world’s best at the Tokyo Olympics.
Dunn has already shown he is prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to make the very top, and while carrying the Australian flag at this weekend’s opening ceremony is not the same, it’s sure to whet his appetite even more to take that next step.
“Carrying the Australian flag is a huge honour and to be voted in by my fellow team mates makes it that much better,” he said.
“Having gone to five Junior and U23 World championships, I have seen my fair share of opening ceremonies. Each year it has generally been tradition that a final year athlete take the flag and I was definitely hoping that I would get the opportunity when it was my time.”
“Its obviously not an Olympic Opening Ceremony, but the scale doesn’t mean anything to me. The prestige surrounded in holding your country’s flag, and being picked to represent that flag for yourself, your team and your nation is what makes me feel pride and joy being the flag bearer.”
It sounds like the perfect preparation for an Olympic career.