Part 4 – My personal top 3 pick of the mix canoe slalom

This is the fourth and last in a series of posts describing the journey from print to digital supported by print in the world of canoe slalom. Last week’s post described my own top tips in using online media.

This week I reflect back on my own personal favourites over the last 25 years. The common link in many of them have been the personal insights athletes, retired athletes and coaches have afforded me through interviews.  Like any good old fashion press release and article they contain strong titles, quotes and great photography.

Trail Blazers Martyn Hedges (Canoe Kayak UK magazine issue 16 July 2002)

Martyn Hedges was regarded as one of the top C1 paddlers in the 1980s. Sadly, after being selected for the Barcelona Olympics he was killed in a car accident months before. Ten years after this tragic event I was able to contact his competitors, training partners and coaches to write an article about the paddler we all knew as Bushy. It was printed in Canoe Kayak UK magazine as two double page spreads. It was complemented by amazing photography by Tony Tickle and Pete Astles.

Britain's outstanding C1 paddler, Martyn Hedges, known to us all as Bushy. Photo courtesy of Tony Tickle and CKUK
Britain’s outstanding C1 paddler, Martyn Hedges, known to us all as Bushy. Photo courtesy of Tony Tickle and CKUK

Another ten years later in my Unofficial Olympic Canoe Slalom blog for the London 2012 Olympics I paid tribute again to Bushy and to share the story with a new generation. The original is not available online to my knowledge you can read my 2012 tribute here.  It was the post that received the most comments and shares.

An evening with the Brazilian Canoe Slalom team (2013) 

Photo courtesy of Neil Proctor Photograpy
Photo courtesy of Neil Proctor Photograpy

With the Rio Olympics less than 2 years away it is great to follow the progress of this young developing team. Neil Proctor and I had the pleasure of an evening with the Brazilian Canoe Slalom team after the close of the 2013 Worlds in Prague. The evening was fun in itself and having the full team of paddlers, coaches and team manager, Ettore Ivaldi, altogether enhanced the conversation. I have continued to follow the team’s exploits here and hope to do a similar article with the Japanese Canoe Slalom Team in 2015.

The Ultimate Run – 25 years on (2014)

Not unlike the Martyn Hedges piece noted above this was a wonderful opportunity and privilege to go back to the legends in the sport; Jon Lugbill, Davey Hearn & Bill Endicott. The original article The Ultimate Run 25 years on piece was posted online through Sportscene.tv. The organisers of the Deep Creek Worlds then invited me to re-edit as a feature piece for the Deep Creek official programme. I decided to seek additional insights from Richard Fox. I was very proud of the finished version. Again, both the online and subsequent print article was enhanced through the stunning photography of Tony Tickle and Dale Briggs. The only disappointed aspect was leaving out more fabulous quotes in the interests of space.

The Deep Creek official programme first page spread of feature. Print version courtesy of Deep Creek 2014 Host Organising Committee & Eloqui.com
The Deep Creek official programme first page spread of feature. Print version courtesy of Deep Creek 2014 Host Organising Committee & Eloqui.com

In the previews and race reviews posted on the Sportscene.tv website over the last two years I have also sought to include historical references or analytics which the main stream media would be unlikely to find. It has helped to have been there in person and witnessed many events and had personal relationships with the people involved in some way or other. Online also enables us to measure the impact of different articles or even alternative titles. One of the most viewed and shared was my blog piece A Spectator’s Guide  Knowing that lists are often the most viewed or shared this last year I wrote Top 10 Predictions for Deep Creek. Like many of the posts or articles mentioned it has been in development for many months before it went live. To me the key is knowing the right questions to ask.

I have worked with remarkable talented people along the way.  In the early days contributed to Slalom Magazine and then supported Jimmy Jayes with his 1991 book Every Second Counts and then produced a report entitled To Athens 2004 and beyond that arose from an Athens Canoeing Advisory Panel. More than anything it has been fun.  The only other piece I pull out is my piece of creative writing My Ultimate Run in the Canoe Slalom blog. I thought it was different and may offer insights to those who had not experienced Lee Valley from water level.

As I described in the very first of these four posts social media has enabled us greater control of the media channel and helped us widely communicate our passion for the sport with the worldwide paddling community. Live commentary on Twitter is a different skill set capturing information in the instant and communicating it well is less than 140 characters. Social media enables all of us to be engaged. You are all playing a part. Thank you.

I am honoured to be nominated as Media Ambassador 2014 for the World Paddle Awards. Please read more and vote here.

This is the last in this series. Following soon will be my 2015 season preview posted to the Sportscene.tv website. Thanks for reading. Follow me @gregiej

Deep Creek Canoe Slalom Worlds 2014

Iconic image of Deep Creek Worlds (Photo courtesy of Jochen Meyer)
Iconic image of Deep Creek Worlds (Photo courtesy of Jochen Meyer)

The Deep Creek Worlds #DeepCreek2014 were historic in so many respects. My contribution took five parts:

1) 10 Predictions to Deep Creek Canoe Slalom Worlds posted on Sportscene

2) The Ultimate Run – 25 years on published in the Deep Creek official program(me)

3) Live commentary through 1,000 Tweets in four days @gregiej

4) The French Connection review posted on Sportscene. This includes rob van Bommel’s outstanding video round-up from the closing ceremony

5) 250 1-2 second video clip montage coming soon!

 

Vavra Hradilek on his 2nd qualification run, showing his historic Czech flair
Vavra Hradilek on his 2nd qualification run, showing his historic Czech flair (photo courtesy of Balint Vekassy, ICF)

I was honoured and privileged to interview Jon Lugbill, Davey Hearn, Richard Fox and Bill Endicott for the 25 year anniversary. The Ultimate Run. The feature previously included in the official programme. It was wonderful to work with Kent Ford & Lamar Sims, with whom I did the live race commentary for the ’95 Worlds in Nottingham, UK.

The Deep Creek official programme first page spread of feature
The Deep Creek official programme first page spread of feature

Funniest memories from Deep Creek were Jessica Fox appearing to tweet from the start line, Klauss & Peche startline selfie and Vavra’s stylish cross bow (above).

Kent Ford interviewing the legend Jon Lugbill winner of the 89 Worlds C1 title
Kent Ford interviewing the legend Jon Lugbill winner of the 89 Worlds C1 title

C1 legend Tony Estanguet goes out on top

Legendary French C1 triple Olympic Champion Tony Estanguet, 34, has today announced his retirement from canoe slalom. He truly leaves on top with gold in London his third Olympic gold, in addition to his three individual C1 World Championship titles, 2 World Championship C1 team medals, twice World Cup Champion and three times European Champion. He was the French flag bearer at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

C1 legend Tony Estanguet (photo courtesy of AE Photos http://www.aephotos.co.uk)

His career at the top of the sport started more than 18 years ago competing against Michal Martikan as juniors in 1994, then with his first senior medal at the Tres Coroas World’s in Brazil back in 1997 (silver). He will be deeply missed at the Troja World’s in Prague next year. He goes out with legend status to rival American’s Lugbill & Hearn.

I was lucky enough to meet Tony a few times, watch him train and compete. He has an exciting smooth style to his paddling. I am sure we will still see him on the bank at the World’s and Rio Olympics helping the next generation of paddlers. He has been elected on to the IOC Athletes’ Commission on which he will serve for eight years. Good luck Tony in your next endeavours.

 

C1 – Canadian Single

C1 is the focus of today’s post. C1 is thrilling to watch and an excellent way of analysing canoe slalom. On Monday and Tuesday we examined K1M and K1W respectively. Today is C1 (pronounced see-one), meaning for the Olympics a male athlete kneeling in a closed cockpit canoe 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.

Inside the cockpit of a C1 (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The C1 paddler kneels on pre-formed padded foam blocks inside the cockpit. They then sit back on their heels supported by the foam block and tighten straps across the knees. This prevents them sliding forwards as well as ensuring that, like in a kayak, the C1 becomes an extension of their body. The extra height above the water gives the belief that the C1 is less stable than a kayak. The International Canoe Federation again has specifications for the C1, which must be 350cm long, 65cm wide and weigh not less than 10kg. The paddler again wears a slightly more rounded spraydeck round their chest & waist which prevents water getting inside the boat. If the C1 capsizes and the paddler is unable to roll up they pull a loop on the spraydeck and easily fall out of the boat upside down.

The C1 gives the paddler much greater height above the boat, this means they have much greater reach with the paddle and can use their whole body to create big strokes. They can also reach further through the gate or into a breakout. Because they are kneeling in the boat, all their body weight falls through the centreline of the boat and so it will spin much faster than a kayak. With the extra body weight and longer paddle above the boat the C1 paddler can also pivot turn in spectacular fashion, sinking the entire back of the boat under the water with one powerful stroke. This is really stunning to watch in high level competition. Forward paddling is tougher and requires more practice to execute well than in a kayak. C1 is so technically demanding that the key is to start young and spend lots of time on whitewater. Sydney Olympic gold medallist, Tony Estanguet started at the age of 5.

A C1 paddler either paddles naturally on the left (lefty) or on the right of the boat (righty). When they then paddle on the opposite side of the boat they are said to be on the cross-bow. For the C1 paddling in slalom it means that for a lefty C1 it is easier to do a breakout of the left hand side of the boat than the right. In competition there should be a minimum of six upstream (red and white) gates and so the course designer must ensure that a lefty or righty C1 have the same challenge and opportunity. If all breakouts were on the left, the course would favour a lefty C1 and their run time would be expected to be quicker than a righty C1 who has to do all the breakouts on a cross-bow. I remember seeing lefty Michal Martikan do a cross-bow surf out of a breakout at World’s that other C1 paddlers did not think was possible on a cross-bow!

On modern, shorter, bigger whitewater courses like Lee Valley the slalom gate sequences are tighter with less opportunity to forward speed and so we see C1 run times very close to those of the K1s. In very tight courses the C1 could be quicker, because although they have less forward speed they can turn through breakouts and spins much faster than a kayak. Watching C1 has helped many K1 paddlers and made medal winning C2 crews out of former C1 paddlers.

David Florence heading into a right hand upstream on Lee Valley course (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The first strong nations were France, Czechoslovakia, East & West Germany and Switzerland. C1 was then dominated through from 1979 to 1989 by the iconic Jon Lugbill and Davey Hearn from the US before 16 year old Michal Martikan from Liptovsky Mikulas in Slovakia won his first bronze medal at the Nottingham World’s in 1995! Michal & France’s Tony Estanguet started competing as juniors in 1994 and have then dominated both World Championships and Olympics from 2000 until now. The key question is how long this domination will last? Historically, the UK has been a kayak dominated nation in terms of medal performance at the World & Olympic level with the exceptions below.

I understand that Michal paddles with a C1 with much greater ‘rocker’ than is usual, meaning the curvature of the hull, this means that the boat has much greater manoeuvrability at the expense of forward speed and stability. C1 paddlers tell me few others are comfortable in a boat like Michal.

Double Olympic Champion lefty C1 Michal Martikan Slovakia (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Martyn Hedges (Bushy) was highly respected. In 1980 he won all the Europa Cup races. He died tragically two months before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. See last Sunday’s post which is a tribute to Bushy. Gareth Marriott then went on to gain Great Britain’s first ever Olympic canoe slalom medal with a silver in Barcelona. Gareth had superb reach and flair although a certain inconsistency, either utterly outstanding like the pre-Olympic gold in 1991 or blew out completely.

The GB World Championship individual C1 medallists are:

Martyn Hedges (Bronze Augsburg 1985) & Gareth Marriott (Bronze 1997 Tres Coroas)

GB Team C1 medallists are:

Martyn Hedges, Peter Keane & Jeremy Taylor (Bronze 1983 Meran), Mark Delaney, Bill Horsman & Gareth Marriott (Bronze 1991 Tacen & Silver 1993 Mezzana) & David Florence, Stu McIntosh & Dan Goddard (Bronze 2006 Prague).

GB Olympic C1 medallist are:

Gareth Marriott (Silver 1992 Barcelona) & David Florence (Silver 2008 Beijing).

GBR David Florence righty C1 on his cross bow during selection at Lee Valley (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Righty C1 paddler David Florence will represent Great Britain at the London2012 Olympics at Lee Valley later this month. David is the current ICF World ranked number 1 C1 paddler so will be last off in the C1 heat. He is unique among GB paddlers at a World level in competing in the same event in C1 and C2.

As part of the International Canoe Federation drive to greater gender equality C1W was introduced in 2009 as a World Championship demonstration sport and became a medal event the following year in Tacen. We look forward to C1W developing further and its hopeful inclusion in future Olympic Games. The top C1W to watch are currently Jana Dukatova (SVK), Leanne Guinea (AUS), Rosalyn Lawrence (AUS), Jessica Fox (AUS), Katerina Hoskova (CZE), Cen Nanqin (CHN), Katarina Macova ( SVK) and British number 1 C1W paddler, Mallory Franklin.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the C2.

A tribute to Bushy & other trail blazers

It would not be right to talk about the London Olympic canoe slalom without paying tribute to Martyn Hedges. I am sure there are many canoe slalom paddlers who have never heard of Martyn Hedges but may very well have paddled in a Bushsport deck, never making the connection between the brand name and the legacy of the GB World Championship bronze medallist.

Britain’s outstanding C1 paddler, Martyn Hedges, known to us all as Bushy (photo courtesy of Tony Tickle, CKUK July 2002)

To quote from the Canoe Kayak UK article I wrote in July 2002; “Two months before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Great Britain’s most outstanding C1 paddler Martyn Hedges was tragically killed in a car accident en route to Nottingham. A minute’s silence was held at the Olympic canoe venue at La Seu D’Urgell in tribute to Martyn and the energy, enthusiasm and flair that he inspired in so many young paddlers” Martyn was one of slalom canoeing’s true trail blazers and London 2012 marks 20 years since his death at the age of 35. He was National C1 champion an awe inspiring 13 times! Martyn’s coach, Jim Sibley said; “Most paddlers throughout the world believed Martyn had the special qualities needed to be World Champion; indeed in 1980 he won all the Europa Cup races.”

Barcelona was the first re-appearance of Canoe Slalom as an Olympic event since the singe inclusion in Munich on the Augsburg course in 1972. Competition in C1 within the UK was tough, particularly between Martyn, Gareth Marriott, Mark Delaney and Bill Horsman. Olympic selection in the snow in Seu in April 1992 was nail biting! Gareth had won the pre-Olympics at Seu in 1991 and went on to win Great Britain’s first Olympic medal in Canoe Slalom with a silver medal in 1992. Interestingly, Mark is now coach to David Florence & Richard Hounslow!

Back in the 1992 Olympic days nations could select three boats per class, not just one. The British team decided not to fill his place for the Barcelona Games. Gareth Marriott said; “The decision not to replace Bushy in the Olympic Team was THE most powerful tribute available. He was the sort of guy you couldn’t replace. Bill [Horsman], his potential replacement, didn’t want a place that belonged to Bushy, he wanted his own place in the team.” The gold medallists from Barcelona were Italian, Pierepaolo Ferrazzi, (now coach to Daniele Molmenti), Germany’s K1W, Lisa Micheler-Jones, Czech, Lukas Pollert in C1 and in USA’s Strausbaugh & Jacobi in C2.

There have been other trail blazers within canoe slalom. The names of Great Britain’s K1M Richard Fox, USA’s C1 Jon Lugbill & Davey Hearn immediately spring to mind.  It would be reasonable to cite Michal Martikan and Pavol & Peter Hochschoners as the current trail blazers from Slovakia which has developed as one of the best nations in canoe slalom.

World Championships have been held every two years since 1949, apart from in an Olympic year and with the exception in Maryland, USA due to 9-11. Paul Farrant won Great Britain’s first canoe slalom gold medal in K1M in 1959. Folding kayaks were used from 1949 to 1964, think of that on the Lee Valley course. Anyone care to try? The LOCOG Canoe Manager of London2012, John MacLeod was a member of the 1972 Great Britain Olympic squad in Augsburg. The sport has evolved. Once upon a time there were green and red gates, 5 second penalties for a gate touch continued up until the Athens Olympics in 2004, when the penalty changed to 2 seconds, partly to reflect the much shorter TV influenced run times. The course length has shortened from 3 minutes back in the 1980’s, to 2 minutes in Barcelona to around 95 seconds in 2012. In a move to greater equality, Women’s C1 was debuted in 2009 and became a medal event in 2010 at the Tacen, Worlds. Yesterday, I referred to the Team event. Although this is not an Olympic event, it is a common feature of national and World Championships. Three paddlers in the same class make a team (club or nation) and paddle together down the course. The clock starts when the first competitor starts and stops when the third competitor crosses the finish line. Penalties are accumulated from the three paddlers. It is an amazing spectacle to watch, especially in C2, requiring excellent team work and timing to keep tight enough together without hindering each others passage. It’s also fun!

Tomorrow’s post will start examining the four classes, giving insight into the equipment, techniques and paddlers.