The red thread to glory

Click here to view the full story on Sportsene and Etienne’s TEDx talk on YouTube

Sportscene – In the TEDx talk video Etienne Stott tells a truly inspirational story of the key moments in his journey from the age of ten, which including teaming up with Tim Baillie and the 2011 serious shoulder injury which put his hopes Olympics in jeopardy and regaining full fitness to win gold at London 2012. Etienne’s TEDx talk titled ‘The Red Thread to Glory’ was given at the University of Salford, Manchester, UK on January 16, 2013.

Tears of joy as TeamGB go Gold & Silver in C2 canoe slalom

I am in tears….. Lee Valley has erupted as TeamGB’s Olympic canoe slalom team has delivered Gold and Silver. The impact of this achievement to canoeing and canoe slalom in the UK cannot be understated. It is Great Britain’s first ever gold medal in canoe slalom and it’s first ever Olympic medal in C2. The triple Olympic champions the Hochschorner’s had to settle for a bronze after they have utterly dominated C2 for more than 10 years.

Congratulations to Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott on gold in a fastest C2 clear run of 106.41. They were the first boat down in the final and had to wait for the remaining 5 boats down before they knew if their 106.41 seconds was quick enough. As the final progressed they stayed top and after the Hochschorner’s posted 108.28 with a two second penalty the British spectators erupted knowing it was now certain gold for TeamGB. The last boat down GB’s David Florence and Richard Hounslow although up on both split times could only cross the line to take Olympic silver.

Congratulations to the whole team. The coaches Nick Smith and Mark Delaney, themselves both Olympians who joined the paddlers in the water to celebrate.

Buy a newspaper on August 3rd. It will be a collector’s item as a piece of Olympic and Team GB history was made today at Lee Valley.

New heights for Great Britain canoe slalom C2

Great Britain’s C2 pair of David Florence and Richard Hounslow powered their way down in a strong 108.93 seconds with no penalties to win the semi-final in C2. Only 6 boats qualify for Thursday’s final in an hour and Great Britain for the first time ever has two C2 boats in an Olympic final. New heights. Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott qualified for Great Britain in sixth place. David and Richard will be the last off in the final.

As expected the three time Olympic champions qualified comfortably in second with a time off 109.04 seconds with a 2 second penalty. It was easily the fastest actual run time of 107.04 plus a 2 second penalty for hitting gate 5 on the top section of this Olympic Lee Valley Whitewater centre course. The Hochschorner’s pulled out the stops with a direct move on gate 18. Heat winners Klauss and Peche from France executed a similar move to qualify third.

With two TeamGB paddlers in the final of 6 boats it will be noisy and tense in this 12,000 sweater stadium.

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.

C2 – Canadian Doubles

C2 is the focus of today’s post. C2 is spectacular to watch as these big boats with two paddlers squeeze their way through narrow slalom gates on big whitewater. So far this week we have examined K1M, K1W and C1 respectively.  Today is C2 (pronounced see-two), meaning for the Olympics two male athletes kneeling in a two man closed cockpit canoe each with a single bladed paddle. Again let’s look at the equipment, pros and cons and some top paddlers past and present to look out for.

A peek inside Baillie & Stott’s C2 (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The C2 combines great paddle reach, pivot turns combined with impressive forward power. Like the C1, the C2 paddlers kneels on pre-formed padded foam blocks inside the cockpit, sitting back on their heels supported by the foam block with straps across the knees to secure themselves. The International Canoe Federation again has specifications for the C2, which must be 410cm long, 75cm wide and weigh not less than 15kg. It is important for the C2 crew to spend considerable time in their boat on whitewater so they have good communication and coordination between them. This is essential to successfully roll a C2!

One C2 paddler will paddle on the left and one on the right and the two cockpits are not always directly in line but can be slightly offset towards the left or right of the boat. Two Great Britain C2 crews have gained selection for the London Olympics; David Florence & Richard Hounslow and Tim Baillie & Etienne Stott. David kneels in the front paddling on the right as he does in his C1 with Richard kneeling in the back paddling on the left. Tim similarly paddles in the front on the right with Etienne paddling in the back on the left. The front man in the C2 can also paddle on the cross bow meaning at that moment both paddlers have their paddler in the water on the same side. Watch out to see if a C2 crew ever switch their hands simultaneously. This is relatively rare but a few paddlers have experimented with it.

Triple Olympian & World Champion Peter & Pavol Hochschorner from Slovakia at the Cardiff World Cup race (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

International C2 at World’s and Olympics has been dominated by a select group of nations; France, Switzerland, Germany, USA, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia (& former Czechoslovakia). Pavol and Peter Hochschorner from Bratislava in Slovakia 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. I encourage you to read the article in the 2012 Planet Canoe on the ICF website.

The GB World Championship individual C2 medallists are:

David Florence & Richard Hounslow (Bronze 2010 Tacen)

GB Team C2 medallists are:

Eric Jamieson, Robin Williams, Michael Smith, Andrew Smith, Robert Joce & Robert Owen (Bronze 1983 Meran), Tim Baillie, Etienne Stott, David Florence, Richard Hounslow, Dan Goddard & Colin Radmore (Bronze 2009 La Seu d’Urgell) and David Florence, Richard Hounslow, Tim Baillie, Etienne Stott, Rhys Davies & Matthew Lister (Bronze 2011 Bratislava)

There has never yet been a GB Olympic C2 medal, although Smith & Bowman came fourth in Sydney in 2000, missing out on a medal by less than half a second.

I have departed from the review of the previous classes to include reference to the European Canoe Slalom Championships. Why? Because this year, Great Britain has achieved something for the very first time in the history of the sport, a gold medal in C2, with a Team C2 Gold in Augsburg at the European Championships.

David Florence & Richard Hounslow – Cardiff World Cup C2 gold medallists focussed on the gate at GB Selection (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Well done to David, Richard, Tim, Etienne and Adam Burgess and Greg Pitt for achieving this GB first. It followed a C2 Team silver in Nottingham in 2009 and a C2 Team bronze in Bratislava the following year, with Tim, Etienne, David, Richard, Dan Goddard and Colin Radmore. GB C2 is reaching new heights. Added to this David & Richard then won the first ever individual C2 Gold at a World Cup race with their win last month in Cardiff. Impeccable timing guys!

We currently have two C2 boats ranked in the ICF World Ranking top 10. Amazing! I hope you have tickets for August 2nd at Lee Valley.

Tim Baillie & Etienne Stott ICF World Ranked No. 6 C2 crew at Cardiff World Cup (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Tomorrow’s post will describe the terms used in canoe slalom and techniques used.

2012 Olympic Games ICF Canoe Slalom Qualification

Overall, and as one might expect the qualification for nations for the Olympics is a little complex. In simple terms there were two qualification events, where nations often referred to as federations could qualify places for boats, in respective classes. The actual qualification, selection and nomination of the athletes to fill the places came much more recently. The nations qualified boat places through the 2011 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships and the Continental Olympic Qualification event. Still with me?

30 nations qualified one or more classes for the London Olympic canoe slalom. Technically, it was actually 29 nations and Togo gained a K1Men Tripartite Commission place.

Only 10 nations have qualified one boat in each class (K1M, K1W, C1 and C2), meaning they have 4 boats and five athletes, as the C2 includes two paddlers. In fact, Great Britain is the only nation to gain a 5th boat under a new rule for the Olympic Games introduced for London 2012, because the selected pair in the men’s C2 were also both selected in the individual classes and men’s C1 and men’s K1. This means GB is entitled to send a second men’s C2 boat to the Games.

On July 29th-30th the Lee Valley Whitewater centre will be welcoming 85 world class elite paddlers in 73 boats to compete for the four medal events. Based on our current assessment (unconfirmed), we anticipate the participating paddlers will include 5 Olympic gold medallist in canoe slalom from (1996-2008), 11 Olympic medallists, four current World Champions (K1M, K1W and C2) and the current ICF World ranked number 1 athletes at the end of June 2012 after World Cup 3. The standard will be exceedingly tough. Pavol and Peter Hochschorner are looking for a fourth consecutive Olympic gold in C2 and two paddlers won gold back in Atlanta in 1996 and have incredible race experience at this level.

Since canoe slalom returned to the Olympics in 1992 after a 20 year break the qualification system has changed substantially so that each nation now only has the ability to send one boat per class. So in each nation the stakes have gone up for that one Olympic qualification spot and we find ourselves in a position where defending Olympic or reigning World Champions may fail to qualify and so miss out on competing in London in just over 3 weeks.

Future posts in the coming weeks will explore the four respective classes in detail and the individual paddlers.

The basics – why watch canoe slalom?

Welcome to five days of exhilarating explosive competition that test athletes (paddlers), supreme skill, strength and mental toughness down 300 metres of extreme whitewater. The paddlers race against the clock down the course through up to 25 gates going downstream through green and white gates and upstream through red and white gates. Modelled a little on ski slalom but here the competitors incur a 2 second penalty should they touch a pole suspended over the whitewater from above and a huge 50 second penalty should they incorrectly negotiate a gate.

The Olympic competition is made up of heats where the competitor has two runs down the course and the fastest and cleanest of the two runs is counted. They have no practice, so need to rely on their experience, skill and coaches to learn and ‘visualise’ the course and the exact strokes they will need to use to negotiate the whitewater and the gates! A reduced number of boats qualify for a single semi-final run on day two and a smaller number again for a single run final.

There are four classes of ‘boat’ as we crudely call them. OK, yes technically they are canoes and kayaks. Let me explain. There are two kayak classes: K1M – which is K one men, meaning a man sitting in a closed cockpit kayak with a double bladed paddle; K1W – which is K one women, meaning a female athlete sitting in a closed cockpit kayak with a double ended paddle; C1 – which is C one, meaning currently a man kneeling in a single canoe with a single bladed paddle; C2 – which is C two, meaning two men kneeling in a double canoe each with a single bladed paddle on opposite sides of the boat. I encourage anyone to go to YouTube, www.canoeicf.com, www.sportscene.tv or www.gbcanoeing.org.uk where you will find great videos to explain it visually much better.

From my experience these paddlers have been in the top end of the sport for about 13 years or more, at a team level for more than 10; making them on average about 26 years old. Olympics medallists have usually competed at a previous Olympics and have likely medalled at a previous World Championship or World Cup level. Many were successful junior athletes before they progressed into seniors at 18 years of age. There have been a few exceptions. So in essence these athletes have spent their entire teenage and young adult years to reach this level, much more than just simply since Beijing in 2008. I understand that Stepanka Hilgertova from the Czech Republic may have qualified for London 2012. If so this is utterly incredible. I remember watching her compete in Barcelona 20 years ago. She would be the only canoe slalom paddler to compete in Barcelona in 1992 and London in 2012. Outstanding. I will confirm.

For many successive Olympics since its return to the Games in 1992, Canoe Slalom has consistently been amongst the highest TV viewing figures. It is truly spectacular to watch on TV and the big white water and drops on the Lee Valley Whitewater centre make it the best Olympic level canoe slalom course in the world, according to the paddlers themselves.

Coming up tomorrow the listing analysis of which nations have qualified how many places for the forthcoming Olympic canoe slalom and the 82 individual athletes that have provisionally been nominated and qualified for the Olympics. London2012 tell me today that these are not official until the middle of July.  They are competing for four gold medals, one in each of the four classes: K1M; K1W; C1 and C2.

A subsequent post will provide you a little more background on the origins of canoe slalom, the Olympic canoe slalom history, GB medallists and more.