Support from the bank: The coach

The coach plays a pivotal role in supporting the athlete towards that ‘Ultimate Run’. However, this is not a short term partnership as the coach and athlete will have spent years working together to hone their performance. Each of the major nations competing at Lee Valley starting on Sunday has strong management and coaching support teams, who have been working for years to develop future paddlers towards podium finishes.

Tim Baillie & Etienne Stott in training in winter training at Lee Valley (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The sport has developed significantly since it reappeared in the Barcelona Olympics. At that time Great Britain had a strong heritage of World Championship medal performances and important developments in the quality of coaching. In 1992, the more affluent nations already had the availability of basic video cameras for video analysis. This is an area that has subsequently developed considerably in the last 20 years together with harnessing sport science to improve top level performance. One technical innovation was the use video analysis. “Dartfish software now helps us analyse and review our video footage” says Nick Smith, Technical Coach C2 Class, Podium Programme at GB Canoeing. Campbell Walsh, Olympic Silver Medallist from Beijing described how he has been using Dartfish for many years in both training and races to help choose the best lines and boat positions on the river. “We heavily use the split screen head-head function and slow motion with different racers to determine which lines are proving to be the most consistently fast. The differences in angle or position are too often too subtle to notice if we didn’t have this ability to watch both simultaneously and at a slower speed. We will use video clips from the demonstration runs before I race and use myself verses rivals in between my 2 competition runs. Then we look at the fastest on each section after the race as part of the review and learning process. In training, when I will complete the same sequence of gates many times with different techniques, I often using the split screen with the option of watching up to 4 clips on head-head to help understand the differences and determine which was faster”. Some examples of this technology can be found on YouTube or through the Sportscene website.

At a more basic coaching level the coach is able to walk the course that has been set and discuss how the water moves through the gatelines and the likely options or key strokes necessary to complete. In training the paddler can then run down the course, with the coach providing them feedback on what they actually did versus the ideal. Split times of different paddlers on one specific sequence of gates can be used to uncover where some paddlers are making up time or to evaluate different options. Again, in training the coaches are able to set a course of gates to challenge and test the paddlers.

David Florence on the podium following his C1 win at The Cardiff World Cup race (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

At the national team levels, the coaches are invariably ex-elite paddlers themselves. The GB Podium coaches are led by Jurg Gotz, the Swiss national team member 1974-1984 who has coached paddlers at all 5 of the last Olympics. He heads a team of technical coaches: Paul Ratcliffe, Sydney Olympic silver medallist; Mark Delaney, Barcelona & Atlanta C1 paddler who coached David Florence to silver in Beijing and Nick Smith, Sydney & Athens C2 paddler. London2012 will mark the fourth Olympic Games led by GB Canoeing Performance Director, John Anderson MBE. Beyond the technical coaches the team is also supported by an extensive group of performance lifestyle advisor, strength & conditioning specialist, programme manager, physiotherapist, sports psychologist and performance analyst. Nick Smith added; “We gain an uplifting feeling of helping these athletes culminate years of work and preparation for the biggest event in our sport.”

Many of the coaches at a club level are ex-paddlers or parents of paddlers. The UK has an extensive club coaching scheme and network. The role of the coach involves hours standing on cold and wet river banks. Russ Smith, National Competition Development Coach for Canoe England and who himself won a gold medal in the K1M team event at the 1987 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Bourg St Maurice said; “As to the opportunities for coaching slalom I believe that the Olympics being in the UK will open up our sport to a whole new batch of potential paddlers and coaches/parents. The spectacle of whitewater slalom being seen either live or via TV beamed straight into the home is truly a sight to see. For those who would wish to get involved in coaching try the UK Home Nation websites (below) or more information on slalom coaching can be obtained through Jimmy Jayes, a British National Champion in the 1980’s and a prominent figure in slalom coaching commented; “The technical knowledge of the coaches and athletes is still the deciding factor in performing well. This needs to have been made 100% solid in training and previous races and then carried over to be automatic for the BIG EVENT!” Nick concludes by describing what will make the Olympic medallists; “As usual in our sport, a bit of luck with the water but over and above is a calm head and ability to deliver on the hardest of whitewater courses.”

Tomorrow’s post will look at the role of the Judge in canoe slalom and describe more specifics of the rules of the sport. Please comment here or via @gregiej on Twitter.

K1W – Kayak Women’s Single

Ladies kayak deserve their own day and post rather than rolling into one K1 post. Yesterday took a first look at the four different classes with K1M. Today – is K1W (pronounced kay-one-women), meaning a female athlete paddling a single one seater closed cockpit kayak. Again let’s look at the equipment, pros and cons and some top paddlers past and present to look out for.

Great Britain’s K1W Fiona Pennie at the Cardiff World Cup race (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Ladies (women’s) kayak are worthy of true recognition as they paddle the same 350cm kayaks as the K1M, on the same whitewater and through the same set of slalom gates. If you want to see the best use of whitewater watch the K1W. They have narrower shoulders and less muscle mass and shorter levers. Their paddles (blades as we call them) are invariably about 10cm shorter. Ladies thus rely less on brute strength and more on good technique and using the water to help them negotiate the gates. There have been a few exceptions Margit Messelhauser (1985 Augsburg World Champion) was incredibly strong and Liz Sharman had great speed and a longer paddle. Liz was the only slalom paddler I can recall to compete in the Olympics in sprint canoeing (Seoul 1988)! In his book ‘Every Second Counts’, Jimmy Jayes described that K1W were doing an average 70 strokes per minute in the gates and up to 80 strokes per minute at the start and finish, so less than the men, partly because they also tend to hang on to the stronger for a longer time. I recall going with Alan Edge, Rachel Crosbee (nee Fox), Karen Like (nee Davies), Lynn Simpson and Maria Francis to meet Professor Craig Sharpe at Northwick Park (BOMC) for the first ever physiology testing in canoe slalom. I remember that Karen had the least strength, lowest endurance, and least speed of the four, however, it should be noted she won the Bala Mill Prem the next weekend and has a K1W team bronze medal from the 1985 Worlds in Augsburg. That is not to say that women are not as physically fit as the men. At this level the K1W are also out for early morning whitewater training before a rest and a second session in the afternoon like the men.

There is a significant move by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) and national federation to gender equality. The number of female athletes in canoeing, including canoe slalom is increasing as well as in leadership roles within technical committees. As we will discuss tomorrow, a ladies category was introduced in C1 in 2009. This has not yet become an Olympic category and the C2 event is still a men’s class, but one expects that this will change in time too.

One to watch. Australia’s Jessica Fox at Cardiff World Cup race. What would Bill Endicott make of this? (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett).

Great Britain has also shown consistency in K1W at the Worlds since 1979.

The GB World Championship individual K1W medallists are:

Liz Sharman (Silver 1979 Jonquiere, Gold 1983 Merano & Gold 1987 Bourg St Maurice), Jane Roderick (Silver 1983 Merano), Lynn Simpson (Gold 1995 Nottingham), Fiona Pennie (Silver 2006 Prague) and Lizzie Neave (Bronze 2009 La Seu d’Urgell).

GB Team K1W medallists are:

Liz Sharman, Jane Roderick & Susan Small (Silver 1981 Bala), Liz Sharman, Jane Roderick & Susan Garriock (Silver 1983 Merano), Liz Sharman, Gail Allen & Karen Davies (Bronze 1985 Augsburg), Maria Francis, Rachel Crosbee & Lyn Simpson (Bronze 1993 Mezzana), Lynn Simpson, Rachel Crosbee & Heather Corrie (Silver 1995 Nottingham & Bronze 1997 Tres Coroas), Heather Corrie, Rachel  Crosbee & Amy Casson (Bronze 1999 La Seu d’Urgell), Helen Reeves, Laura Blakeman & Heather Corrie (Bronze 2002 Bourg St Maurice & bronze 2003 Augsburg), Heather Corrie, Kimberley Walsh & Laura Blakeman (Silver 2005 Penrith), Fiona Pennie, Laura Blakeman & Lizzie Neave (Bronze 2007 Foz do Iguacu) and Lizzie Neave, Louise Donnington & Laura Blakeman (Gold 2009 La Seu d’Urgell).

GB Olympic K1W medallist is:

Helen Reeves (Bronze 2004 Athens).

Lizzie Neave on the Cardiff Whitewater course at World Cup 1 (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

As you can see from the above Lizzie Neave already has one World Champions K1W team bronze and an individual bronze medal. As mentioned before, Lizzie became British K1M champion in 2005 as a junior showing us her true future potential. See my previous posts for my Punters Guide to Olympic Form and analysis of the paddlers from other nations to watch. Stepanka Hilgertova (Czech Republic) is a double Olympic champion and Corinna Kuhnle (Austria) is only the second K1W paddler to win two successive World Championships. Tomorrow’s post will look at the C1.


K1M – Kayak Men’s Single

As promised I will spend the next four days looking at the four different classes. Then on Friday I will post on the basic terms of canoe slalom competition and the slalom techniques (basic and more advanced). If you are new to Canoe Slalom you will know what to look out for and sound as though you have been doing it for years. If you have paddled for ages, well done and keep practising!

Today – is K1M (pronounced kay-one-men), meaning a male athlete paddling a single one seater closed cockpit kayak. Let’s look at the equipment, pros and cons and some top paddlers past and present to look out for.

Richard Hounslow K1M on his way to win selection at Lee Valley in April (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The kayak paddler is sitting in a seat with the legs stretched out in front of them against moulded knee braces, foam padding and footrests. The footrests are potentially the most important fixture of the boat. It is not really possible to paddle down a whitewater course such as Lee Valley without footrests and it would be almost impossible to negotiate the slalom gates. The kayak paddler is effectively wearing the boat rather than simply sitting in it and so transferring the power of the paddling to propel the kayak or change its direction.

The rules of canoe slalom define the specification of the boats, in kayak this means the kayak must be 350cm long, 60cm wide and weigh not less than 9kg. The kayak length has reduced from 4 metres to 350cm and this has caused the sport to evolve.  The single kayak is the fastest in a straight line however in slalom the boat rarely runs straight for more than a few strokes. Also the shorter boats, shorter and bigger whitewater courses means that the run times are getting much tighter between K1M, C1 and C2. I will explain more over the coming days. 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 kayaks 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.

In his book ‘Every Second Counts’, Jimmy Jayes described that K1M were doing an average 80 strokes per minute in the gates and up to 130 strokes per minute at the start and finish. Men generally have wider shoulders and slightly taller upper bodies and this means they have a greater muscle mass and longer levers than female paddlers. At times the men can rely on strength rather than superior technique.

Olympic K1M Silver Medallist Campbell Walsh at the Cardiff World Cup race (photo courtesy of Michael Barrett)

The kayak paddles have a blade on each end, which you may see from the pictures are offset between 40-90 degrees either clockwise or anticlockwise. So paddlers are either left of right handed. Some 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 and transfers the power and helps pull the boat towards the blade.The paddler wears a spraydeck which at this level are all made of neoprene. They are worn by the paddler around their chest/waist and seal around the cockpit of the kayak. They stop water getting in to the boat. The paddlers legs and the inside of the boat remain dry and this also keeps the boat running fast as it is not carrying the extra weight of any water.

Great Britain has shown a great depth over the 60 years in K1M at the World and Olympics. The GB World Championship individual medallists are:

Paul Farrant (Gold 1959 Geneva), David Mitchell (Silver 1967 Lipno), Albert Kerr (Gold 1977 Spittal), Richard Fox (Bronze 1979 Jonquiere, Gold 1981 Bala, Gold 1983 Merano, Gold 1985 Augsburg, Gold 1989 Savage River & Gold 1993 Mezzana), Shaun Pearce (Gold 1991 Tacen), Melvyn Jones (Bronze 1993 Mezzana), Paul Ratcliffe (Bronze 1997 Tres Coroas & Bronze 1999 La Seu D’Urgell) and Campbell Walsh (Bronze 2006 Prague & Foz do Iguacu).

GB Team K1M medallists are:

Geoffrey Dinsdale, Dave Mitchell & Martin Rohleder (Bronze 1963 Spittal), Ken Langford, Ray Calverley & John MacLeod (Silver 1969 Bourg St Maurice), Richard Fox, Albert Kerr & Alan Edge (Gold 1979 Jonquiere), Richard Fox, Albert Kerr & Nicky Wain (Gold 1981 Bala), Richard Fox, Paul McConkey & Jim Dolan (Gold 1983 Merano), Richard Fox, Melvyn Jones & Russ Smith (Gold 1987 Bourg St Maurice), Richard Fox, Melvyn Jones & Shaun Pearce (Gold 1993 Mezzana), Andy Raspin, Shaun Pearce & Ian Raspin (Bronze 1995 Nottingham), Paul Ratcliffe, Ian Raspin & Shaun Pearce (Gold 1997 Tres Coroas), Campbell Walsh, Huw Swetnam & Richard Hounslow (Silver 2009 La Seu D’Urgell).

GB Olympic K1M medallists are:

Paul Ratcliffe (Silver 2000 Sydney) and Campbell Walsh (Silver 2004 Athens).

See my previous posts for my Punters Guide to Olympic Form and analysis of the paddlers from other nations to watch. Tomorrow’s post will look at the K1W.