Olympics, World Championships & World Cup. Mirror mirror on the wall who is the greatest of them all? Who is the number one paddler in the World? Based on what: ICF ranking, Olympic Champion, World Champion, World Cup Champion or who has the most medals?
The Olympics is the greatest show on earth but this doesn’t translate necessarily to the best test of the top athletes in the World. I recall the Barcelona course at La Seu d’Urgell was heavily influenced by where the film cameras had mounted their cameras and the competitors and coaches were disappointed with the challenge of the course that was set. The current one boat per nation per class (for those that qualify) mean we have a very depleted World Class start list. The World Championship gold, silver and bronze medallist in C1 have failed to qualify for London 2012. The Olympic qualification also penalises those nations who have multiple athletes in the top 10 in an individual class. The Slovakian’s are the most successive canoe slalom nation in the last twenty years and as an illustration the Skantar brothers from Slovakia are absent due to the Hochschorner’s qualification.
The Olympics are held every four years and canoe slalom has been a permanent fixture of the Games since Barcelona in 1992. They do not yet include the C1W class but hopefully this is only a matter of time.
The World Championships now take place each year with the exception of Olympic year when there are no Senior World Championships. This changed in 2002, prior to which World’s were held every other year. The World’s in 2001 were cancelled. The field of athletes at World’s is the largest and they also including the fun and exhilarating Team Event Championships. World’s are also held for under 23 athletes (U23) and Juniors. I believe two athletes from the U23/ Junior World’s held in Wausau, USA this month are competing in London2012 those being Jessica Fox (Australia) and Caroline Queen (USA). Interesting to note that Jessica Fox was described by the ICF as the “most successful paddler at the championships”. Good warm-up! World’s includes the C1W class following its introduction in 2009.
The World Cup is a series of 5 races on different courses held during the summer season and to win the paddlers must demonstrate consistency through that season at a top international level. Contrary to my previous blog comment about Gareth Marriott, I note that he won the World Cup in C1 three times. The World Cup is also not in itself the best test of who is the best canoe slalom paddler in the World as paddlers will often miss World Cup races to prepare for Olympic or World Championships. This year illustrates the point; the current leaders in the 2012 World Cup races in C1 and C2, Alexander Slafkovsky (Slovakia) and Labarelle & Peschier (France) have not qualified for the Olympics while both Martikan and Hochschorners respectively have only competed in one of the three World Cup races so far in 2012. Six time World Cup champion from Slovakia, Elena Kaliska and double World Cup champions Ladislav & Peter Skantar also from Slovakia have failed to make the Olympics. Is the Olympic field then truly World class?
There are a few athletes who have amassed a giant haul of medals of all colours and in the different championships. This demonstrates exceptional consistency and mastery; Fox, Lugbill, Hearn, Jerulsami, Hilgertova, Kaliska, Martikan, Estanguet, Simek & Rohan and Hochschorners to name a few. The Hochschorners with multiple Olympic (3x), World Championship (5x), World Cup (10x) and European Championships (6x) titles as well as being ICF ranked number 1 are without doubt the most consistent and awarded athletes ever in the sport.
All said, there is fierce competition for the Olympic spots, those selected paddlers are proud to represent their nation and the Olympic showcase takes canoe slalom to billions of people around the World and inspires a next generation of World Champions, World Cup Champions and Olympic medallists. Back in the 80’s this is more than we could have dreamed. We will discuss the implications on funding and sponsorship tomorrow. Good luck to all those competing at Lee Valley for London2012.
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