The Lee Valley canoe slalom legacy

Wow, what a legacy! Note to self – buy all of the newspapers!

Today’s last post is dedicated to the service of those who have invested the last few years of their lives to pull off the greatest canoe slalom show on earth. There really has been two Team GB’s: one dedicated to performance excellence with the athletes and one dedicated to those that have delivered the highest level competition venues. There have been challenges and disappointments along the way but this should not detract from what has been achieved. You should now all be incredibly proud.

The Times cover Friday August 3 2012 TheTimes.co.uk

There have been 800 people behind the scenes at the venue on race days. A core team of 11 led by Canoe Manager, John MacLeod (1972 Canoe Slalom Olympian) have worked full-time for several years to bring this competition together. I want to recognise and acknowledge what they have achieved. They are: Elaine Skilton (Canoe Services Manager), Colin Woodgate (Canoe Slalom Technical Operations Manager), Kelly Rainey (Slalom Admin Services Group Leader), Tamsin Phipps (Canoe International Federation Group Leader), Natalie Sandmann (Slalom Athlete and Team Services Group Leader, Debbie Littlehales (Slalom Sports Information Group Leader), Dave Royle (Slalom Field of Play Group Leader), Julien Gaspard (Slalom Sports Equipment Group Leader), Jacky Brookes (Slalom Technical Officials Group Leader) and Paskell Blackwell(Slalom Field of Play Safety Group Leader). The Venue General Manager of the Lee Valley Whitewater Centre is Paul Valkovics (see canoeicf.com). We were delighted to welcome two Royal Air Force Squadrons to provide security for the games; Royal Air Force Regiment Queen Colour Squadron (63) Northholt and 2 Squadron Honnington Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, as well as all the emergency services inside and beyond the immediate venue. There are so many others including Lee Valley, British Canoe Union CEO Paul Owen, GBCanoeing and their headline sponsor Tesco.

The Daily Telegraph Friday August 3, 2012 pages 4-5

The immediate post Olympics is a key decision point for athletes and teams. For the athletes, whether to commit to another four year cycle. For the Gold medallist, Molmenti, Estanguet, Fer and Ballie/Stott whether to now bow out on a high or commit to the next four year cycle. London2012 has been Hilgertova’s 6th Olympics and Oblinger’s 5th. Some of the paddlers will retire and move to be part of coaching staff in either their own National Federation or for oversees athletes. From a British perspective also the decision whether to permanently relocate the canoe slalom to Lee Valley or return to the base in Nottingham. There is currently no canoe slalom club at Lee Valley and several athletes and coaches see this as a next logical step to build a legacy from Lee Valley.

The ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships are confirmed at Lee Valley for 2015. Given the enormous UK interest generated in the sport can we argue for a 5-10,000 seater stadium for 2015. Recalling the 1995 World’s in Nottingham it was primarily attended by athletes, coaches, managers, officials, friends and family plus only a few hundred members of the public who may have
found themselves stumbling upon the race. It did have BBC and Eurosport TV coverage and this helped inspire a new generation of paddlers. This year is not yet over in the International Canoe Slalom calendar with two World Cup races remaining. The 2013 World Championships will be super exciting. They are back at the Prague Troja artificial canoe slalom course.

It was incredible to see the old guard in the stands or alongside the course, previous Olympic medallists such as Gareth Marriott, Lisa Micheler-Jones, Scott Shipley, Thomas Schmidt, Pierepaolo Ferrazzi, Paul Ratcliffe, Helen Reeves and Campbell Walsh as well as other Olympian’s; Nick Smith, Mark Delaney, Melvyn Jones, Ian Raspin, Rachel Crosbee, Chris Arrowsmith, Paul Brain and Miriam Jerusalmi-Fox and coaches Hugh Mantle, Ken Langford and Alan Edge.  At the same time there were Great Britain junior and U23 team paddlers cheering on their role models and thousands of club slalom paddlers and recreational canoeists. Our hope is that London2012 really will inspire a next generation of Olympians. Lee Valley was voted by LOCOG based on a spectator exit poll as the best Olympic venue. Helen Reeves was also voted as one of the best TV commentators. Kev McHugh, Andy Maddock and Randy Ferguson brought the venue alive with some high energy live commentary. We encourage everyone to come back for the ICF World Canoe Slalom Championships in 2015 again here at Lee Valley.

Before rounding off, a most overwhelming congratulations to all 83 paddlers, our 15 London2012 Olympic medallists and to Performance Director, John Anderson MBE on behalf of GB Canoeing staff. A vision has been realized!  We have a World Class venue in London & South East of England, Olympic Gold in canoe slalom, Olympic C2 medals and a media spotlight on this most amazing sport.

This is THE picture of the whole Olympic canoe slalom event. It captures everything we have dreamed of and what has been achieved. Congratulations. L-R Nick Smith, Etienne Stott, Mark Delaney, Richard Hounslow, David Florence & Tim Baillie. Photo courtesy of Antony Edmonds AE Photos http://www.aephotos.co.uk

It has been an absolute privilege to bring you this daily blog over the last month, which has generated almost 5,000 direct views. It has provided an encyclopaedia of canoe slalom for London2012. I would like to acknowledge a bunch of people who have helped me along the way in no particular order, they are: Michael Barnett (MB23 Photography), Antony Edmonds (AE Photos), Rob van Bommel (Sportscene), Tony Tickle (although not up to the expected standard!) and Craig Morris for permission to use photographs and Nick Smith, Chris Arrowsmith, Gareth Marriott, Elaine Skilton, Anne Hounslow, Jimmy Jayes, Russ Smith, Colin Woodgate and others for some facts, figures and opinions. Finally for the links and newsfeeds on www.canoeslalom.co.uk, www.LondonOlympic2012.comwww.thesportfeed.com, www.canoeslalomworld.com, Ollie Williams BBC Sport and TalkSport. Much appreciated guys.

Tell everyone you know in the UK to buy a newspaper today. I hope you pick up a paddle. Visit www.bcu.org.uk. For now, au revoir.

John

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.

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 http://www.canoeslalom.co.uk/info/slalom_coach_ed_programme.htm. 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.

http://www.canoe-england.org.uk http://www.canoescotland.org http://www.canoewales.com http://www.cani.org.uk

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.