Estanguet – Martikan 3:2 on Olympic Golds

Canoe Slalom Olympic Day 3 Review

In the World of Olympic C1 canoe slalom, Tony Estanguet from France now has 3 Olympic Golds to his nemesis Slovakia’s Michal Martikan’s two. They are both class acts. This time around they were divided by Germany’s new rising C1 star, Sideris Tasiadis. As is so always true in this sport it can all come down to penalties. All the medallist had clear runs.

Olympic Canoe Slalom C1 Champion Tony Estanguet, France celebrating his third Olympic title (photo courtesy of http://www.aephotos.co.uk)
Olympic C1 silver medallist Sideris Tasiadis from Germany (photo courtesy of Sportscene)

New Olympic silver medalist, Sideris Tasiadis will be a key paddler to watch in the future. He was delighted with his strong semi-final run that placed him in the lead going into the final. He was then last man down and with a comparable run to his first slotted in between Estanguet and Martikan to take his first Olympic medal. The 22-year-old was previously the Junior World Champion in 2009 and this year won the European Championships on his home course at Augsburg. Germany has long had a strong history in C1 with a bronze in Athens from Stefan Pfannmoller plus multiple medals at Worlds, World Cup and European Championships since 1991.

The largely British 12,000 spectators, whipped up by the live race commentary went wild when David Florence came down for his semi-final run. David was paddling well until gate 18 when the front of his C1 hit the left hand pole of the tough downstream (green and white) gate positioned in the eddy. With this touch and 2 second penalty added to his time he was unable to make it into the top 8 for the final. David Florence will be back in action on Thursday in the C2 class with his pair Richard Hounslow.

Michal Martikan hit gate 1 on his semi-final run and was then the only C1 paddler to take the 9-10-11 gate sequence direct without a spin. He made it through to the final and posted the then fastest final clear run time of 98.31 seconds again direct on the same gate sequence with Tony Estanguet next down the course. Bronze at London2012 still represents Michal’s fifth Olympic medal and he still looks exceptionally strong and controlled.

Tony Estanguet delivered controlled clear runs in both the semi-final and then the final. After posting the fastest time of 97.06 seconds in the final he then had to sit for two more paddlers, to complete their own runs to see if he would hang on to the lead and which colour medal he would take home. In the end no-one could better his time and it was a 3rd Olympic Gold. He is also a three time World Champion, twice World Cup champion and three times European Champion. The heavens opened at Lee Valley just in time for the medal ceremony, although the French and medallists didn’t care and were already celebrating noisily.

Neither Estanguet, 34 nor Martikan, 31, appear likely to retire and so the World Championship next year in 2013, which take place on the Prague course will again be a fiercely contested battle.

Day 4 K1M Medals Day Preview

Wednesday is day 4 of the Olympic canoe slalom competition we have the semi-finals and finals of the K1M – men’s single kayak class. They are on a different course than their heat on Sunday but the same course as the C1 semi-final and finals on Tuesday. The 15 remaining K1M paddlers start at two minute thirty second intervals for a single run semi-final, with only 10 qualifying for the final. In the semi-finals they go in reverse order of their finish in Sunday’s heat, with another German, Hannes Aigner off last having won the heat with his lightening quick second run. In K1M Germany has won three of the five K1M Olympic titles since 1992. However, there any many very strong and experienced K1M in Wednesday’s semi-final, including two World Champions: Italy’s Daniele Molmenti and reigning World Champion Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer. These two paddlers have shown consistent form since the last Olympics and are both eager to capture an Olympic medal to add to their World Championship, World Cup and European Championship gold medals. In addition, there are several previous Olympian’s Togo’s Benjamin Boukpeti won bronze in Beijing is the only Olympic medalist in the K1M; Ireland’s Eoin Rheinisch was 4th in Beijing and Austria’s Helmet Oblinger was 7th in Beijing as well as 4th in Sydney. Vavrinec Hradilek was the 2010 World Championship silver medalist and had two tidy clear runs in the heat. Another favourite from the heat is Samuel Hernanz from Spain, who similarly finished clear. Great Britain’s hopes are on Richard Hounslow, who recovered from an unspectacular first run in the heat but secured 11th in the heat.

K1M hopes for an Olympic K1M Gold rest on Richard Hounslow in Wednesday’s semi-final and final (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Again, it will be tense competition right down to the very last run of the final. Who will be on the podium? Hold on to your seat and scream at the TV or in the stands at Lee Valley.

Come back Wednesday night for the final medal standings for the K1M and a preview of the C2 and K1W semi-final and finals which take place at Lee Valley on Thursday.

Comments @gregiej on Twitter

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British disappointment at Lee Valley in C1 semi-finals

Disappointment here at Lee Valley this afternoon as Great Britain’s and World No.1 David Florence fails to make it through to the finals. It was a composed start for Florence and on track until the tricky left green and white downstream in the eddy at gate 18 caused the bow of David’s C1 to lift and clatter the left hand pole of gate 18. There was incredible tension and deafening support for Florence as he came down. He finished with 106.16 some 7 seconds down.

The three fastest paddlers all had clear runs proving as always that it is about being fast and clean that counts. Double Olympian, Michal Martikan from Slovakia uncharacteristically struck gate 1 incurring a 2 second penalty. However, he then pulled off a sensational forward direct move between the exit of gate 9 and gate 11. He finished joint fourth to qualify for the final. Martikan’s arch rival Tony Estanguet from France also made the final coming 3rd with a comfortable clear run.

2009 Junior World Champion from Germany, Sideris Tasiadis, just 22, produced an impeccable clear run of 98.94 seconds to take a commanding lead. He will be last off in this afternoon’s final.

Canoe Slalom Olympic Day 2 Review and Day 3 C1 Medals Day Preview

Fabulous news for the Great Britain Team with all 5 boats having qualified for the respective semi-finals. Solid start.

Gripping canoe slalom TV coverage (photo courtesy of Sportscene)

First, a review of Monday’s exciting C2 and K1W heats before a preview of what to expect on Tuesday for the semi-final and finals of the C1. If you have not been lucky enough to be among the 12,000 spectators at Lee Valley, the TV coverage is looking amazing with great camera angles, definition and slow motion replays.

In the second day of heats, Gauthier Klauss & Matthieu Peche’s first run was the quickest C2 in 96.98 clear, although the legendary Hochschorner brothers looked very comfortable with two calm, controlled and consistent runs to place them 2nd in the C2. The Chinese crew of Minghai Hu and Junrong Shu laid down an impressive first run on which they improved further finishing 3rd only 2 seconds behind the French winners. Both Great Britain C2 crews of Tim Baillie & Etienne Stott and David Florence & Richard Hounslow all qualified for the semi-finals in 4th & 7th respectively. This is a dramatic statement to the world for Great Britain to place two C2 crews in an Olympic semi-final, together with the French, Slovakian’s, both the Czech Republic boats, Poles, Slovenian’s, Australian and Chinese. The Russian bronze C2 medallist from Beijing, Mikhail Kuznetsov and Dmitry Larionov were unable to make it through the cut.

C2 heat results l2012.cm/Q4EGFf

 

London’s exciting Olympic canoe slalom venue at Lee Valley (photo courtesy of Sportscene)

In the women’s kayak class, only three ladies posted times, with penalties, under 100 seconds: Maialen Chourraut; Lizzie Neave and Maria Clara Giai Pron. Stepanka Hilgertova from the Czech Republic did what she needed to gain qualification in 5th place for her sixth consecutive Olympic Games. Twenty six years her junior, Jessica Fox’s second run was outstanding with a 4th place finish in the heat ahead of double Olympic Champion, Hilgertova. The 18 year old Australian is the reigning Junior World Champion and will win an Olympic medal, likely gold, the only question being at which Olympics? A very happy Lizzie Neave from Great Britain did two solid clear run performances, showing her home comfort with the course to finish second, with one of the fastest runs of the day. Maialen Chourraut, 2011 World Championship bronze medallist from Spain set by far the fastest run of the K1W with a clear 88.75 including a 2 second penalty for touching one gate. The three recent World Champions, Austria’s Corinna Kuhnle, Germany’s Jasmin Schornberg and Slovakia’s Jana Dukatova are all safely through to the semi-finals. Ana Satila, the 16 year old from Brazil narrowly missed qualification but looked absolutely delighted with her performance at her first Olympics.

K1W heat results l2012.cm/Q4R1cs

Overall, all the expected Olympic medallists and World Champions have made it through, although it is disappointed to see no USA paddlers in the semi-finals for London2012.

Germany’s Sideris Tasiadis, 4th in the C1 heats, and ready for the semi-finals on Tuesday (photo courtesy of Sportscene)

Tomorrow, on day 3 of the Olympic canoe slalom competition we have the first of the semi-finals and finals with the Canadian single, C1, class. There is a different course from the last two days of heats with 23 gates and with no opportunity for the paddlers to practice. The 12 remaining C1 paddlers start at two minute thirty second intervals for a single run semi-final, with only 8 qualifying for the final. In the semi-finals they go in reverse order of their finish in Sunday’s heat, with double Olympic Champion, Michal Martikan from Slovakia therefore last man down. Great Britain’s David Florence will be aiming to go one better than his silver medal in Beijing. He is strong enough to cope with three straight days of competition. He has been consistent in the World Cup races this year and is the current World ranked number 1 C1 paddler. On Sunday, Martikan, showed his class with an awe inspiring fast and clean second run. Also to look out for in C1, Slovenia’s Benjamin Savsek was very impressive in the heat finishing 2nd less than three tenths of a second behind Martikan. Qualifying well was also Takuya Haneda from Japan and former Junior World Champion Sideris Tasiadis from Germany. Several paddlers capable of medals including double Olympian arch rival to Martikan, France’s Tony Estanguet. It will be tense competition right down to the very last run. Hold on to your seat and scream at the TV or in the stands at Lee Valley.

First of the semi-finals with the C1 starting at 1.30pm until 2.06pm. Final run of the C1 as decider for the Olympic medals, starting at 3.06pm until 3.30pm. The day concludes ten minutes after the field of play is called clear with the C1 Olympic medal ceremony. Ends 3.50pm

Tomorrow come back for the final medal standings for the C1 and a preview of the K1M semi-final and finals which take place at Lee Valley on Wednesday.

Comments @gregiej on Twitter

 

Canoe Slalom Olympic Heats Day 1 Review and Day 2 Preview

The first day of exciting canoe slalom competition got underway at the packed out Lee Valley Whitewater centre, under mixed skies. First a review of the Men’s individual heats (K1M and C1), then below a preview of what to expect on Monday for the second day of canoe slalom back at the fabulous world class Lee Valley Whitewater Centre. I recommend International Canoe Federation and Sportscene Facebook pages and websites for some spectacular photographs.

Heats Day 1 (photo courtesy of Tony Tickle)

In the first day of heats, many competitors needed to pull out improved second runs to ensure qualification. No major shocks or upsets today from the heats, although disappointing to see Scott Parsons, USA who came 6th in Athens failing to make the first cut from the heats to the semi-finals. Great Britain’s David Florence and Richard Hounslow in C1 and K1M both successfully make it through the heats which comprise the best of two timed runs down the course including penalties.

In C1, double Olympic champion from Slovakia, Michal Martikan, stunned the 12,000 capacity crowd first with a 50 second on gate 12 on his first run and then when he needed it most with a characteristic awe inspiring clear second run in a sensational 90.56 seconds, taking gate 12 direct. His time would also have qualified in the K1M heat showing how close the run times are becoming on these tight technical whitewater courses. The second double Olympic champion in the field, Tony Estanguet of France also made it comfortably through picking up penalties on both runs, including gate 12.

In K1M, comfortable runs for most of the favourites. Richard Hounslow, GBR, had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to guarantee qualification in his second run. A few athletes, comfortable with the standard required tend not to go all out on a second run if they are in a comfortable position after first runs. Hannes Aigner from Germany stunned the crowd with the fastest run of the day in a lightning quick 83.49 seconds clear and over 3.58 seconds faster than second placed Samuel Hernanz from Spain. Over three seconds is a huge margin in canoe slalom especially on such a short course and he could still have won with on 2 second touch! The first six K1M boats were all clear, i.e. with no two second penalties.

Packed 12,000 seater stadium at Lee Valley before the rain! (photo courtesy of Craig Morris)

Monday, on day 2 of the canoe slalom Olympic competition we have heats in the remaining two Olympic classes; K1W and C2. Both the GB pair of Richard Hounslow and David Florence won qualification to the semi-final in their individual class and paddle Monday in the C2, where they have both shown excellent recent form. The course is the same as the heats from today (Sunday) with the paddlers going at 2 minute thirty second intervals. It will be interesting to see how the ladies kayak and big C2 boats cope with this tight technical course, especially the ‘S’ upstream gate 12 and the last of the downstream stagger gate 21, where many paddlers today have had a 2 second touch.

For the heats the paddlers have two separate timed runs on the course, the best of which, including penalties will form the ranking order for the heats. The field is then cut for the respective heats. In K1W there will be 21 starters with 15 qualifying for the semi-final. In C2 there are 14 starters and 10 qualifying for the semi-final on Thursday. The athletes go off in reverse ICF World Ranking order. The current ICF number 1 athletes are K1W Jana Dukatova (Slovakia) and C2 Pavol & Peter Hochschorner (Slovakia) will be the last to go in their respective heats on Monday.

In the K1W, favourites to look out for include: Stepanka Hilgertova from Czech Republic who cannot be discounted given her exceptional experience from being the only athlete to have competed in all six Olympics and Olympic Champion from both in Atlanta and Sydney as well as double World Champion from 1999 and 2003; reigning World Champion, Corinna Kuhnle from Austria; Maialen Chourraut from Spain who is the bronze medallist from the World Championships; Germany’s 2009 World Champion Jasmin Schornberg; Lizzie Neave from Great Britain who won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2009; Jessica Fox from Australia, Youth Olympic champion who retained her Junior World Championship title this month is a little of an outsider and Jana Dukatova from Slovakia who is the twice silver medallist from World Championships.

In the C2, watch out for Jaroslav Volf and Ondrej Stepanek from the Czech Republic who were Olympic bronze medallists in Athens and silver medallists in Beijing; David Florence and Richard Hounslow bronze medallists from the World Championships in 2010; Mikhail Kuznetsov and Dmitry Larionov from Russia who were bronze medallists from Beijing; Luka Bozic and Saso Taljat from Slovenia who were bronze medallists at the World Championships in 2009 and finally Pavol and Peter Hochschorner from Bratislava in Slovakia who have already become legendary within C2. They are the only athletes to have won four consecutive World Championship titles. They have won the World Cup series 10 times since 1999 and the European Championships 6 times. If they were to win gold at London2012 they would make history again as the only athletes to win four successive gold medals at the Olympic Games. Understandably, they are the ICF number 1 athletes meaning they will be last boat to go from the start in the heats of the C2. Great Britain has a second C2 boat made up of Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott.

Great Britain’s David Florence with Tony Tickle (photo courtesy of Tony Tickle!)

Again, there is lots of TV or online coverage available. The canoe slalom is also being recorded in HD and 3D. Live comprehensive coverage on the BBC, Eurosport, NBC and the ICF website. The paddlers will go off at 2 minute and 30 second intervals.

  • First run of the C2 heat start at 1.30pm until 14.09pm.
  • First run of the K1W heat start at 2.12pm until 3.15pm.
  • Second run of the C2 heat starts at 3.42pm until 16.21pm.
  • Second run of the K1W heat start at 4.24pm until 5.27pm.

Come back late Monday night for results and commentary from these heats and a preview of the first day of the semi-final and finals for the C1 on Tuesday.

Comments @gregiej on Twitter

 

All eyes on Lee Valley

Good morning and welcome to the fabulous sunny Lee Valley Whitewater course for the biggest canoe slalom competition ever in the UK. Today starts 5 days of the most spectacular, exhilarating, tense and thrilling canoe slalom competition. Good luck to all of the paddlers and teams. Congratulations to the huge team behind the scenes for what they have already achieved in bringing this amazing competition to a reality and good luck over the next days. If you are new to canoe slalom sit back either at Lee Valley or at home in front of the TV and prepare to watch this most sensational sport. We hope it encourages you to pick up a paddle, coach or support this wonderful sport. For a preview of today’s competition see yesterday’s post.

Tonight’s post will include commentary on the outcome of today’s K1M and C1 heats and a preview of Monday’s heats in K1W and C2.

Canoe Slalom Day 1 Preview

We are here, seven years after London was first awarded the Games.

Today a preview of what to expect tomorrow for the first day of canoe slalom starting at the fabulous world class Lee Valley whitewater centre. Today the course has been set for the heats. It has been designed by Thomas Schmidt from Germany (Sydney Olympic Champion) and Marianne Agulhon from France (1991 World K1W Team Champion) and once set will be approved by Jean Michel Prono the ICF Chief Judge. The Olympic athletes do not have the opportunity to practice on the course and so today there will be demonstration runs from other elite slalom paddlers in each of the classes. This will be eagerly watched by the 83 Olympic paddlers, their coaches and managers. They will then go back and review video of these demonstration runs to see what they can learn.

David Florence, Olympic silver medallist in Beijing looking to advance to the C1 semi-finals on Lee Valley tomorrow (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Tomorrow, on day 1 of the canoe slalom Olympic competition we have heats in two of the four classes; K1M and C1. This is good as for those paddlers who are doubling up for the C2 competition as they will have one day between their individual class heat and C2 heat. For the heats the paddlers have two separate timed runs on the course, the best of which, including penalties will form the ranking order for the heats. The field is then cut for the respective heats. In K1M there will be 22 starters with 15 qualifying for the semi-final. In C1 there are 17 starters and 12 qualifying for the semi-final. The athletes go of in reverse ICF World Ranking order. The current ICF number 1 athletes are K1M Peter Kauzer (Slovenia) and C1 David Florence (Great Britain) will be the last to go in their respective heats tomorrow.

The course is set and demonstrations runs have been completed, 22 gates, with six red and white upstream gates and considered to be 4 tough moves. This will be the same course for each of the four classes and both of their two runs. As the C1 paddlers are either left or right handed, the course designers will ensure that the course is balanced with a similar number of upstream breakout gates on the left side of the course and right as the paddler goes down. There will be a new course set after the heats for the semi-final and final.

An amazing stadium with seating for 12,000 spectators each day has been constructed on the front of house running all the way from just below the start spanning all the way around to the bend at the finish. This will create the most incredible atmosphere on this purpose built 300 metre Olympic whitewater at Lee Valley, described by David Florence as the toughest in the World. The heats will be fiercely competed amongst this World Class field.

In the K1M, Togo’s Benjamin Boukpeti who won bronze in Beijing is the only Olympic medallist in the K1M, however there are many previous Olympians, Ireland’s Eoin Rheinisch was 4th in Beijing, Austria’s Helmet Oblinger was 7th in Beijing as well as 4th in Sydney and Scott Parsons was 6th in Athens. In additional, there are two World Champions: Italy’s Daniele Molmenti and reigning World Champion Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer. These two paddlers have shown consistent form since the last Olympics and are both eager to capture an Olympic medal to add to their World Championship, World Cup and European Championship gold medals. Mateusz Polaczyk from Poland and Vavrinec Hradilek are both previous World Championship silver medallists.  Great Britain has a strong history in K1M, with 2 previous Olympic silver medals and so look out too for local, Richard Houslow who took an emphatic win at the Great Britain team selection on this Lee Valley course in April.

In the C1, the heats include two former Olympic Champions, Michal Martikan from Slovakia (Atlanta & Beijing) and Tony Estanguet from France (Sydney & Athens). Between them, Michal and Tony have won Olympics, World Championships, World Cup and European Championships and are the favourites. However, their long reign will eventually come to an end as new C1 paddlers find a consistent winning form like former Junior World Champion Sideris Tasiadis from Germany who won the 2012 European Championships in Augsburg, Stanislav Jezek from Czech Republic winner of the 2011 World Cup or Great Britain’s David Florence Beijing Olympic silver medallist and 2009 World Cup winner.

Great Britain’s Richard Hounslow in K1M focussed on advancing to the semi-finals (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

There is lots of TV coverage available. The canoe slalom is also being recorded in HD and 3D. For those with a TV licence there is live comprehensive coverage on the BBC, starting at 1.30pm and again at 2.24pm on Sunday as well as further coverage on BBC3 and online channels. NBC also has coverage of canoe slalom. There will be coverage on Eurosport. The paddlers will go off at 2 minute and 30 second intervals.

  • First run of the C1 heat start at 1.30pm until 2.18pm.
  • First run of the K1M heat start at 2.24pm until 3.27pm.
  • Second run of the C1 heat start at 3.42pm until 4.30pm.
  • Second run of the K1M heat start at 4.36pm until 5.39pm.

Tomorrow come back for results and commentary from these heats and a preview of the K1W and C2 on Monday.

Comments @gregiej on Twitter

Advances in boat design

Today, a short review of how the Olympic canoe slalom boat designs have changed through the history of the sport.

Bill Endicott’s iconic 1983 book ‘The Ultimate Run’

First, I have been asked about the significance of the name of last night’s post, my Ultimate Run. The Ultimate Run – Canoe Slalom at the Highest Levels’ is the name of Bill Endicott’s iconic book, written back in 1983. The phrase ‘Ultimate Run’ has become adopted by paddlers worldwide seeking that performance excellence and perfect negotiation of the course. As an aside, the Ultimate Run eBook has been created by daveyhearn.com with the permission of original author William T. Endicott.

Boats for this elite Olympic level competition are made of either carbon or a mix of carbon and aramid (often recognised by the name Kevlar), mixed with an epoxy polymer resin. The vacuum construction means a higher percentage of fibres and less resin and so less weight and greater strength. These fibres have a very high tensile strength to weight ratio. Foam sandwich construction in between layers of carbon or aramid fibres is used to further increase the stiffness of the boats. Each new Olympics tends to drive the advancement of the boats to meet the nuances of the newly constructed artificial course.

The ICF rules of canoe slalom define the specification of the boats, and the length of the kayak and canoe classes has reduced. The kayak length has reduced from 4 metres to 350cm and this has caused the sport to evolve with an increase in the difficulty of the courses that can be set and accomplished. As described yesterday, the boat can be pivoted around by sinking the stern under the water even easier than in the older 4 metre length kayaks and as you will see it is possible to do an upstream red and white gate on just one stroke, which looks sensational. For the paddlers and the manufactures the shorter lengths have meant that the boats are a bit less vulnerable to damage, use slightly less material (less weight) and it is easier to put the inside seams in. With modern carbon construction it is quite feasible to manufacture the kayak less than 9kg. The boat is made up to the 9kg minimum weight by adding extra under the seat. This causes the boat to spin faster than it would do than if the weight were evenly distributed along its length. The boats will be weighed at the end of each run at the Olympic Games, to ensure that emptied of water they meet the required minimum weight. The C1s are 350cm in length, 65cm wide and minimum 10kg, while the C2 is 410cm long, 75cm wide and minimum 15kg.

Mark Proctor, on the Lee Valley Whitewater course, sinking the back of his C1 (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

There have been key individual athletes that have contributed to the advancement of boat and paddle design like Richard Fox or Michal Martikan. Michal paddles a C1 with a very high rocker design called the Martikan 07, which many other C1 paddlers find insufficiently stable, however, this suits Michal’s paddling style. A key component to defining the best boat (kayak or canoe) is the weight of the paddler. A 80kg paddler will need a different volume boat than a 55kg paddler to provide the same forward paddler speed and responsiveness in turning.

In respect of paddle design and in a similar way Michal has evolved a specific paddle design called C1 Martikan! Some kayak paddlers use a cranked or Double Torque shaft which is not straight and is believed to reduce the strain on the wrist and allow greater pull. The paddles are all made of carbon which is stiff, very light and transfers the power to pull the boat towards the blade.

This is a far cry from the boats of the Munich Olympic in 1972, when canoe slalom made a single appearance on the Eiskanal in Augsburg. Not until La Seu d’Urgell in the Spanish Pyrenees did canoe slalom reappear as part of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. At one time boats were folding until 1963 when boats constructed of chop strand mat fibreglass or nylon, before the introduction of woven polyester fibres such as Diolen. Boats were heavy, usually over 65 pounds (30 kilos). With the advent of aramid and carbon fibres from the 1970s, the ICF reduced the width of the boats which could now pass underneath the gate poles.

Tomorrow we will preview what is to come at the spectacular Lee Valley Whitewater Centre starting on Sunday.

Comments @gregiej on Twitter

My Ultimate Run

I paddle on to the conveyor and up to the start where I sit in my boat with my eyes shut running through every gate from start to finish, stroke by stroke, wave by wave, all the way to the finish. All is quiet and I have shut out the thunderous noise within the Lee Valley stadium. This is just another run on another set of gates on another day. I am calm. I hear the starters instructions and wait at the blocks in the centre of the start pool. I hear my number and three, two, one, go. I wind up to full pace and explode through the start beam just hearing the reassuring bleep as I accelerate down the first drop and into the course. My stroke rate is high. The line is good, the boat is dry, I feel the wave nudge the edge of my boat and react with the timed stroke on my left as planned to run down the back of the wave into the pocket above the sequence of green and white gates.

My deep powerful sweep stroke on my left brings the bow round and the high stroke rate, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight brings me right into the gateline of the next gate. I sense losing the sun for a split second as I come underneath the bridge and down the main section of the course.

I cannot see the eddyline of the upstream below the gate but I have already picked out a point on the bank to aim for as I commit myself to Big Ben. The boat drops away, I lean forward and reach and the boat is snatched by the upstream current. I watch the black ring around the bottom of the upstream pole two inches from my left shoulder. I feel my whole arm tense as the boat whips round on one stroke, how I love these shorter boats. The boat feels balanced and in control. I reach through the gateline, put my weight forward to catch the downstream current and straight back out. I pull as hard as I am able to accelerate my boat back up to speed, one stroke, two stroke, three strokes, four strokes bringing me exactly to the next gate as planned. Now, I lean back, edge and push the blade hard away from the right of my boat to bring the front up in the air and round, thumping down in the exact line for the middle of the next gate.

I approach the next drop inches away from the blue block at the edge, I lean back drop my blade in on the right near the back and feel the boat plane downstream into the eddy. I concentrate on keeping the boat running flat and straight so that it does not spin out into the eddy. I am in control. I run straight through the gate and a quick series of forward strokes brings me back on the line.

I nail the next breakout pinning the gateline exactly where I wanted it. It feels like a hot sunny day training on the river with the fun double upstream gates. I accelerate with six rapid strokes, with the last on my right, edge my boat and smoothly surf across the wave and edging the boat the other way as I approach the crest of the wave, the boat drops in 30cm below the outside upstream pole. I plant my blade and pull as hard as I can. The boat pulls up towards the paddle, I slice away, lean back, feel the whole tail of the boat sink, bringing the boat around. I quickly bring my weight forward so that I am in control and not the water and focus on my line for the next stagger sequence of gates.

I spin the boat on the crest of the next wave, to drive in on the ideal line, I plant the boat exactly where I had planned and with a little upstream edge I am able to use the stopper wave to carve the boat towards river right, quickly switching to a subtle downstream lean and powerful bow draw so that the boat doesn’t turn out and lines me up to turn above the next gate so my boat is already heading back across the river to the next gate even before I have negotiated the one now rapidly approaching me.

I am on plan A, I am not undecided and weighing up option A or B. My plan is fixed and I am where I expected to be. I am dry. The boat feels light and dances over the waves. I can feel my heart racing. One more upstream, river right with a trickier approach. I drop in tight to the wall in the calm water, I push my paddle directly off the side wall of the course, drop my right shoulder away so I have enough space between my PFD and the pole, as I need to exit out tight as the very last gate, downstream, is almost right behind me. The water here is less stable and can hold on to the back of my boat, I tighten my brace on the boat with my thighs to maintain control of the edge.

I feel energized. The familiar pain is burning in my arms. As I cross the gateline of the last gate I am struck by a face full of water. Too much to ask to finish without getting wet! I feel strong and I have enough left to accelerate the boat up to speed. I remember to keep my body fully upright, good posture, powerful strokes, boat flat just to the edge of the waves and keep going and keep going, pushing on the footrests. Now I am conscious of my coach’s voice, team and 12,000 other voices screaming. I lean forward, hear the beeeeep of the finish beam and I am done.

Yes!!!!! Perfect, clear I am sure, I have never know what the ‘Ultimate Run’ would feel like. That felt pretty close. I look up to the see the time.

The time….

My Ultimate Run (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

You’ll have to wait and see

Awaiting the National Federations at Lee Valley

Since the £31 million Lee Valley Whitewater centre was completed in 2010 many of the athletes, together with their coaches and managers have spent much time familiarizing themselves with this stunning venue including a test event one year ago. The first heats start in only 4 days time.

The overall site is essentially split into four key areas: front of house which is where 12,000 spectators a day will be able to watch the canoe slalom heats, semi-finals or finals; the field of play which represents the slalom course on which the athletes are competing; the back of house where several hundred accredited officials, including the Games Maker volunteers will be busy ensuring a smooth running event and the mixed zone where the accredited media can come together with the athletes. Paul Valkovics, Venue General Manager for Lee Valley, in an interview for the ICF said that the purpose built venue “has been designed to give the athletes the best possible facilities to perform at their best and provide every spectator in the house a close up view of the action”.

In the back of house area, each of the 30 National Federations is provided with their own Team Tent covered area. Here the 83 athletes can relax with their own team to stretch, sleep, mentally prepare and talk to their coaches and managers. Each is furnished with tables chairs, mats and fridges. The Olympics are very different for these competitors given that with only one boat per class per nation they do not have the familiarity of a larger team with other competitors from their home nation and class as they would have at Worlds or World Cup races. Other facilities provided to the National Federations include changing facilities, provision for the athletes to get massages before and after their runs, catering and a boat repair facility available too if needed.

There is separate space for the athletes to hang their boats in slings and the whole venue is secure so that the teams and athletes can leave their equipment at the venue for the duration of the Games. The paddlers have a large 10,000 square metre lake on which to warm up in additional to a second shorter 160 metre intermediary/ warm up whitewater slalom course. When ready, a conveyor then carries the paddler in their boat from the lake up to the start pool holding area, where 5 large pumps provide 13 cubic litres of water a second.

The medical centre, equipment store, media and Technical Video Service are actually situated in the hill underneath the start pool! The teams are provided with TV monitors so that they can watch the live feed and review video of the runs. As discussed in judging yesterday and coaching on Monday video plays an important part in canoe slalom.

Come back tomorrow to learn what the ‘Ultimate Run’ may feel like. Comments @gregiej on Twitter.

The all seeing eye – The Judge

Today we continue the theme of looking at the different roles of those that make Olympic canoe slalom a success. We focus on the role of the Judge and explain in more depth the rules of canoe slalom.

Campbell Walsh, Olympic Silver Medallist. Did his head and boat pass through the gate without fault? Tough call! (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Like many aspects of the sport it too has evolved since canoe slalom reappeared in the Olympic programme in 1992. At the same time the rules of the sport have changed with the length of the boats becoming shorter, penalties changed from the old 5 second penalty to 2 second penalty after the Sydney Olympics and most recently a black band has appeared around the base of each pole to allow the judges to more easily distinguish the base of the pole from the water behind it. The rules also allow a gate with a single pole suspended above the water. The second inside pole would be found hanging over the bank at the side of the course. Video technology is now employed to allow examination of video replay to ensure penalties are justified. This is managed through a Technical Video Service who have cameras mounted to relay back video images to a section of the Scoring Office. This is independent of any commercial TV coverage.

The overall race is governed by the ICF Chief Judge and jury who have final control of the race. Top level experienced international judges watch each paddler down the course of gates to determine whether the paddler touches the gate poles and also correctly negotiate the gate. There is a 2 second penalty for touching a pole, irrespective of how many times or whether one or both poles on the same gate are touched. A 50 second penalty is awarded when a paddler fails to correctly negotiate a gate, for which there are several potential reasons, but are effectively game over for the paddler on that run. In the heats there is a second chance as qualification is based on the best result from the two runs, in the semi-final which is only one run, a 50 second penalty will mean the paddler fails to qualify for the final or immediately miss out on a medal. The paddler must ensure that their head and part of the boat pass through the gateline simultaneously, once only, in the correct direction. A 50 second penalty can be awarded if the paddlers boat but not their head of body pass through the gate, or if their head and none of the boat, if they are upside down as they pass under the gateline, miss a gate entirely, deliberately displace the gate to allow negotiation or hit a subsequent gate, e.g. gate 12, before attempting gate 11.

The wrong side of gate 22. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The gates are marked as red and white (upstream) or green and white (downstream) together with a number board identifying both the numerical order of the gate and the side from which it should be approached. The back (wrong side) of the gate has a red line through the number showing that correct passage is from the other side of the gate. The position of the gate is firmly fixed to ensure they are unable to move between paddlers. They are also weighted a little so that they are less affected by wind, as it is tougher for the paddler to cleanly negotiate a swinging pole than one that is motionless. Poles can on occasion be set in motion by the water for which the paddler is not penalized. The whitewater can though cause the boat to bounce up under the pole and therefore the paddler needs to keep their boat balance and paddles upright to avoid any touches. As noted in a previous post, Richard Fox had a classic style of always passing through the centre of the gateline while Sydney Olympic medallist Paul Ratcliffe had a known style for ducking and diving around poles, which Scott Simpson described as too high risk for most athletes.

Gate Judge with the yellow 2 second and red 50 second disc (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Analysis of canoe slalom has previously shown that penalties are more common on the bottom portion of the course as the paddler’s lactic acid builds and one penalty can often knock a paddler off their mental rehearsed plan and sometimes more than one penalty is seen in short succession.

Penalties are communicated by the Gate Judges using a yellow disc or card marked with a figure 2, and red card or disc marked with figure 50. The judging duties are spread amongst a technical team of Gate Judges and Transmission Judges along the course and relayed through keypads, headsets and paper back to the Scoring Office. On complex gates there could be multiple Gate Judges all who have a different view of the gate. There is a very sizeable technical team of officials working behind the scenes, which also includes the timing team.

The Chief Judge signs off on the official results. The paddler’s equipment is also checked at the end of each run against the requirements, ensuring that the boat meets the respective minimum weight requirement and that the PDF and helmet meet the standard.

A National Federation Team Manager can announce an intention to submit a protest on behalf of a paddler in his national team, then providing in writing clear explanation as to why it is felt that the penalty is not valid. This is reviewed by the Chief Judge who may refer to the Video Judge. Appeals (which are rare) may be submitted to the jury if the rules are disputed but not against matters of fact. The decision of the jury is final. The full ICF rules can be accessed through the ICF website www.canoeicf.com .

To win a medal the paddler needs to be fast and likely clean, meaning no penalties. As the run times have continued to get shorter the possibility to win or medal with a 2 second penalty is very remote. The Canadian Doubles, C2, presents a unique challenge for the Judges. Both paddlers must successfully negotiate the gate without either paddler touching the poles. It is amazing to see these big boats cleanly negotiating tight upstream gates with precision.

World Cup Race 1. Clear or 50 second penalty? What does the Video Judge think? (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Tomorrow will look at the resources available at the Olympic Lee Valley venue for the national teams. Comments welcome here on @gregiej on Twitter.