GB Canoe Slalom Final Selection Event – Lee Valley April 27 – 28

This weekend (April 27-28) at Lee Valley marks the exciting culmination of the GB Canoeing Canoe Slalom Selection Trials series 2013. Last year’s selection races were tremendously exciting at this wonderful Lee Valley White Water Centre in Herfordshire, which was the venue for the state of the art Olympic canoe slalom. You saw some of the paddlers including gold and silver medalists in C2 competing in the Olympics and after the first two selection events this final selection trial is looking very tight. The two days of selections decide the GB Canoeing team for the 2013 World Championships, World Cup series, European Championships and U23 championships.

More details are available from the GB Canoeing website, where you can find links to buy tickets, or through the home nation websites. Tickets will be available at the venue.

I will be bringing you live results here as well as through the and International Canoe Federation Cardiff World Cup website

Great Britain's Richard Hounslow in K1M focussed on advancing to the semi-finals (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)
Great Britain’s Richard Hounslow in K1M focussed on advancing to the semi-finals (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)


Using Social Media for the 2012 Olympic Canoe Slalom

Blog author – John Gregory

I embarked upon a social media experiment for the London2012 Olympics. I have been a writer and commentator on canoe slalom for more than 25 years and volunteered to write a daily blog on canoe slalom as a feed for several sports websites. This was my contribution to the Olympics in raising awareness of our incredible, exhilarating sport of canoe slalom. Here is an account of what transpired and what can be learnt from the exercise.

I have been an early adopter of social media starting with Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr in 2007, blogs starting from 2008, Twitter in 2009 and more recently Google+. The blog was published through WordPress, which I had used in other work related areas. Each post was on a different topic related to international canoe slalom and I was working a couple of days ahead. Each post was about 500-1000 words with about 3 photographs. The blog ran for 31 days with 42 posts during between July 2nd and August 3rd. I posted live text from an iPad at the venue at the end of each class during the semi-finals and finals. The blog resulted in over 6000 views, with 743 on the last day of the Olympic canoe slalom event at Lee Valley Whitewater Centre.

The most searched item was Jessica Fox, the 18 year old Australian who won silver in the K1W – kayak single women class, followed by in order; Lee Valley, canoe slalom & Hannes Aigner, who won a bronze medal for Germany in K1M – men’s single kayak class. The number of views on the sports websites is unknown. The greatest number of referrals was through Google by a huge margin, followed by , followed by Facebook and Twitter. The daily blog posts and multiple posts on the day of the finals and Team GB Gold & Silver medals meant that the blog came up multiple times in the first page of Google if searching for canoe slalom. So frequency of blog or website updates has a hugely significant effect on search engine optimization, as suggested by Eileen Brown in her book, ‘Working the Crowd’ and also in a guide ‘Going Social  – Tapping into Social Media for Nonprofit Success’

There were 215 tags. Top posts were; home page, Lee Valley venue, Spectators Guide, What to expect & Canoe Slalom from behind the lens. Top click-through’s were to the blog URL, London2012, and International Canoe Federation . The tribute to Martyn Hedges received the most comments from several Olympian and paddlers at World Championships who had personally known Martyn. My own favourite post was the ‘My Ultimate Run’. In all the years of canoe slalom media I can never think that I have read an article written in the first person on what it ‘feels’ like to paddle a slalom race at this level. It was a fun piece of creative writing.

I publicized the blog through Twitter, Facebook and Linked. It was regularly retweeted including by BBC Sport. The most spectacular photography was made available to me by Michael Barnett, Antony Edmonds, Rob van Bommel  and various other individuals and this added a professional look and depth to the quality of the posts.

How does this relate to the business world?

Over the years much of what I have learnt in the use of social media in business has come from my experiences of using social media in sport and charitable organisations. On this occasion, I have used more tags than ever before, seen the impact of these and the frequency of updates on search engine optimisation. I used captions below each photograph. Each post has been automatically publicised in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  I also spent time reviewing the daily, weekly and month to date stats, which was exciting and motivating.

John Gregory August 28th 2012


Canoe Slalom Day 1 Preview

We are here, seven years after London was first awarded the Games.

Today a preview of what to expect tomorrow for the first day of canoe slalom starting at the fabulous world class Lee Valley whitewater centre. Today the course has been set for the heats. It has been designed by Thomas Schmidt from Germany (Sydney Olympic Champion) and Marianne Agulhon from France (1991 World K1W Team Champion) and once set will be approved by Jean Michel Prono the ICF Chief Judge. The Olympic athletes do not have the opportunity to practice on the course and so today there will be demonstration runs from other elite slalom paddlers in each of the classes. This will be eagerly watched by the 83 Olympic paddlers, their coaches and managers. They will then go back and review video of these demonstration runs to see what they can learn.

David Florence, Olympic silver medallist in Beijing looking to advance to the C1 semi-finals on Lee Valley tomorrow (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Tomorrow, on day 1 of the canoe slalom Olympic competition we have heats in two of the four classes; K1M and C1. This is good as for those paddlers who are doubling up for the C2 competition as they will have one day between their individual class heat and C2 heat. For the heats the paddlers have two separate timed runs on the course, the best of which, including penalties will form the ranking order for the heats. The field is then cut for the respective heats. In K1M there will be 22 starters with 15 qualifying for the semi-final. In C1 there are 17 starters and 12 qualifying for the semi-final. The athletes go of in reverse ICF World Ranking order. The current ICF number 1 athletes are K1M Peter Kauzer (Slovenia) and C1 David Florence (Great Britain) will be the last to go in their respective heats tomorrow.

The course is set and demonstrations runs have been completed, 22 gates, with six red and white upstream gates and considered to be 4 tough moves. This will be the same course for each of the four classes and both of their two runs. As the C1 paddlers are either left or right handed, the course designers will ensure that the course is balanced with a similar number of upstream breakout gates on the left side of the course and right as the paddler goes down. There will be a new course set after the heats for the semi-final and final.

An amazing stadium with seating for 12,000 spectators each day has been constructed on the front of house running all the way from just below the start spanning all the way around to the bend at the finish. This will create the most incredible atmosphere on this purpose built 300 metre Olympic whitewater at Lee Valley, described by David Florence as the toughest in the World. The heats will be fiercely competed amongst this World Class field.

In the K1M, Togo’s Benjamin Boukpeti who won bronze in Beijing is the only Olympic medallist in the K1M, however there are many previous Olympians, Ireland’s Eoin Rheinisch was 4th in Beijing, Austria’s Helmet Oblinger was 7th in Beijing as well as 4th in Sydney and Scott Parsons was 6th in Athens. In additional, there are two World Champions: Italy’s Daniele Molmenti and reigning World Champion Slovenia’s Peter Kauzer. These two paddlers have shown consistent form since the last Olympics and are both eager to capture an Olympic medal to add to their World Championship, World Cup and European Championship gold medals. Mateusz Polaczyk from Poland and Vavrinec Hradilek are both previous World Championship silver medallists.  Great Britain has a strong history in K1M, with 2 previous Olympic silver medals and so look out too for local, Richard Houslow who took an emphatic win at the Great Britain team selection on this Lee Valley course in April.

In the C1, the heats include two former Olympic Champions, Michal Martikan from Slovakia (Atlanta & Beijing) and Tony Estanguet from France (Sydney & Athens). Between them, Michal and Tony have won Olympics, World Championships, World Cup and European Championships and are the favourites. However, their long reign will eventually come to an end as new C1 paddlers find a consistent winning form like former Junior World Champion Sideris Tasiadis from Germany who won the 2012 European Championships in Augsburg, Stanislav Jezek from Czech Republic winner of the 2011 World Cup or Great Britain’s David Florence Beijing Olympic silver medallist and 2009 World Cup winner.

Great Britain’s Richard Hounslow in K1M focussed on advancing to the semi-finals (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

There is lots of TV coverage available. The canoe slalom is also being recorded in HD and 3D. For those with a TV licence there is live comprehensive coverage on the BBC, starting at 1.30pm and again at 2.24pm on Sunday as well as further coverage on BBC3 and online channels. NBC also has coverage of canoe slalom. There will be coverage on Eurosport. The paddlers will go off at 2 minute and 30 second intervals.

  • First run of the C1 heat start at 1.30pm until 2.18pm.
  • First run of the K1M heat start at 2.24pm until 3.27pm.
  • Second run of the C1 heat start at 3.42pm until 4.30pm.
  • Second run of the K1M heat start at 4.36pm until 5.39pm.

Tomorrow come back for results and commentary from these heats and a preview of the K1W and C2 on Monday.

Comments @gregiej on Twitter

The all seeing eye – The Judge

Today we continue the theme of looking at the different roles of those that make Olympic canoe slalom a success. We focus on the role of the Judge and explain in more depth the rules of canoe slalom.

Campbell Walsh, Olympic Silver Medallist. Did his head and boat pass through the gate without fault? Tough call! (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Like many aspects of the sport it too has evolved since canoe slalom reappeared in the Olympic programme in 1992. At the same time the rules of the sport have changed with the length of the boats becoming shorter, penalties changed from the old 5 second penalty to 2 second penalty after the Sydney Olympics and most recently a black band has appeared around the base of each pole to allow the judges to more easily distinguish the base of the pole from the water behind it. The rules also allow a gate with a single pole suspended above the water. The second inside pole would be found hanging over the bank at the side of the course. Video technology is now employed to allow examination of video replay to ensure penalties are justified. This is managed through a Technical Video Service who have cameras mounted to relay back video images to a section of the Scoring Office. This is independent of any commercial TV coverage.

The overall race is governed by the ICF Chief Judge and jury who have final control of the race. Top level experienced international judges watch each paddler down the course of gates to determine whether the paddler touches the gate poles and also correctly negotiate the gate. There is a 2 second penalty for touching a pole, irrespective of how many times or whether one or both poles on the same gate are touched. A 50 second penalty is awarded when a paddler fails to correctly negotiate a gate, for which there are several potential reasons, but are effectively game over for the paddler on that run. In the heats there is a second chance as qualification is based on the best result from the two runs, in the semi-final which is only one run, a 50 second penalty will mean the paddler fails to qualify for the final or immediately miss out on a medal. The paddler must ensure that their head and part of the boat pass through the gateline simultaneously, once only, in the correct direction. A 50 second penalty can be awarded if the paddlers boat but not their head of body pass through the gate, or if their head and none of the boat, if they are upside down as they pass under the gateline, miss a gate entirely, deliberately displace the gate to allow negotiation or hit a subsequent gate, e.g. gate 12, before attempting gate 11.

The wrong side of gate 22. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The gates are marked as red and white (upstream) or green and white (downstream) together with a number board identifying both the numerical order of the gate and the side from which it should be approached. The back (wrong side) of the gate has a red line through the number showing that correct passage is from the other side of the gate. The position of the gate is firmly fixed to ensure they are unable to move between paddlers. They are also weighted a little so that they are less affected by wind, as it is tougher for the paddler to cleanly negotiate a swinging pole than one that is motionless. Poles can on occasion be set in motion by the water for which the paddler is not penalized. The whitewater can though cause the boat to bounce up under the pole and therefore the paddler needs to keep their boat balance and paddles upright to avoid any touches. As noted in a previous post, Richard Fox had a classic style of always passing through the centre of the gateline while Sydney Olympic medallist Paul Ratcliffe had a known style for ducking and diving around poles, which Scott Simpson described as too high risk for most athletes.

Gate Judge with the yellow 2 second and red 50 second disc (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Analysis of canoe slalom has previously shown that penalties are more common on the bottom portion of the course as the paddler’s lactic acid builds and one penalty can often knock a paddler off their mental rehearsed plan and sometimes more than one penalty is seen in short succession.

Penalties are communicated by the Gate Judges using a yellow disc or card marked with a figure 2, and red card or disc marked with figure 50. The judging duties are spread amongst a technical team of Gate Judges and Transmission Judges along the course and relayed through keypads, headsets and paper back to the Scoring Office. On complex gates there could be multiple Gate Judges all who have a different view of the gate. There is a very sizeable technical team of officials working behind the scenes, which also includes the timing team.

The Chief Judge signs off on the official results. The paddler’s equipment is also checked at the end of each run against the requirements, ensuring that the boat meets the respective minimum weight requirement and that the PDF and helmet meet the standard.

A National Federation Team Manager can announce an intention to submit a protest on behalf of a paddler in his national team, then providing in writing clear explanation as to why it is felt that the penalty is not valid. This is reviewed by the Chief Judge who may refer to the Video Judge. Appeals (which are rare) may be submitted to the jury if the rules are disputed but not against matters of fact. The decision of the jury is final. The full ICF rules can be accessed through the ICF website .

To win a medal the paddler needs to be fast and likely clean, meaning no penalties. As the run times have continued to get shorter the possibility to win or medal with a 2 second penalty is very remote. The Canadian Doubles, C2, presents a unique challenge for the Judges. Both paddlers must successfully negotiate the gate without either paddler touching the poles. It is amazing to see these big boats cleanly negotiating tight upstream gates with precision.

World Cup Race 1. Clear or 50 second penalty? What does the Video Judge think? (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Tomorrow will look at the resources available at the Olympic Lee Valley venue for the national teams. Comments welcome here on @gregiej on Twitter.



Canoe Slalom from behind the lens

Canoe slalom has an incredible appeal through the lens of a camera as well as making stunning TV coverage.

Personal favourite, Olympic silver medallist Paul Ratcliffe driving hard (photo Allsport)

I admire the photographs over the years of a small group of slalom enthusiasts; Tony Tickle, Chris Worrall, Pete Astles, Robin Vowles, ICF photographer Balint Vekassy and recently Michael Barnett. I was in awe of the stunning images Tony Tickle took in the morning mist of the Savage River at the ’89 Worlds, sneaking my way into a presentation in Llangollen over the British International weekend. One of my personal favourites below we obtained permission from Allsport to use for an athlete profile of Paul Ratcliffe just after Sydney Olympic’s silver medal.

I asked Michael Barnett recently what appealed most to him about canoe slalom, his personal favourites. Here is what he said; “The water is never the same for any paddler. It is a living breathing element and is therefore exciting to photograph as it changes constantly. This makes each photo different. Yes the composition can be similar but the action is always different. Even when shooting at 10 frames per second. The changes can be astounding. There are two images of mine [Michael]which I am particularly proud of and both were taken at the Senior Selection event at Lee Valley during 2011. One is of David Bain and I think I have captured the power of the whitewateras it has thrown his boat nearly out of the water and David looks so calm and concentrated.”

David Bain on Lee Valley (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett). One of his favourite shots

“The other is of Richard Hounslow (GBR K1 and C2 paddler for the London 2012 Olympics) as this photo captures everything about Canoe Slalom – the concentration of the athlete, the ferocity of the water and the moment was perfectly frozen. I am also proud of this photo as it won Canoe England photo of the year for 2011, which isn’t bad for a completely unedited photo. My favourite class is C2. Having to get two athletes in focus when shooting at low apertures (to increase shutter speed) can be very challenging. We are also lucky in Great Britain as we have two of the best C2 crews in the World on our shores and the battles these boats undertake at selections can be very entertaining.”

Richard Hounslow on Lee Valley. (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett). Another of his favourite shots

As it happens I am not a complete novice myself behind a camera and have my own personal favourites from Nottingham, Bourg St Maurice and Bala, ironically all taken with the now old fashioned 35mm SLR camera! There is something wonderful and magical about the atmosphere of the natural river venues that is hard to recreate in photographs of artificial courses like Lee Valley. So what did I learn? If you have a good understanding of the sport then I think planning the perfect shots is key. If you sit by a breakout gate and watch the paddlers you start to understand on what their eyes are focussed, like the outside red and white upstream gate and so if you line yourself up just right you can be looking straight into the eyes as they approach.

Also as the boat comes in the eddy it is slowing making it a little easier to focus and avoid a blurred image. I think the key to good photographs is the right position, good camera and lots of patience. More than 90% of pictures taken are just not quite right.

Michael commented; “I suspect the course designers will try to make the most of the two big drops as these are two of the most exciting elements of the course. So be prepared for good photo opportunities at these points. Don’t leave your seat during the event if you can help it. The leaderboard can change during every run due to the fact the water is never the same. Some of the best athletes in the World could get caught out by the power of the water and it only takes one mistake for the leaderboard to change. It is just so unpredictable and exciting.

I understand photography at the Olympics event is more of a challenge. The IOC has rules in place to prevent photographs being used for commercial purposes. Taking pictures at the Olympics may prove difficult due to the restrictions put in place by LOCOG. The camera you take must fit into a bag which measures 30cm x 20cm x 20cm. I might be able to take my Canon 50D and my 70-200mm lens at a push. Also at the Olympics you are not allowed to sit on the bank with your legs hanging over the side. So, if you are in the UK buy a copy of the slalom yearbook or look at, pick an event and go along with a camera and a backpack of food, drink and warm waterproof clothing! Michael Barnett adds; “A camera which can capture the detail of the water and be able to capture the emotion of the athlete. I pride myself on not editing my photos and trying to get things right in camera.

The web now provides access to thousands of stunning canoe slalom images during and immediately after the event.

The iconic Tony Tickle image from the 90’s. My favourite! (courtesy Tickle Design Group)

Here are Michael’s tips regarding taking great pictures:

• Zoom in as much as you can
• Select as low an aperture as possible whilst shooting in AV mode so that you get a shutter speed quick enough to freeze the water
• Track the athlete’s head while they are canoeing down the course as this is something which is easy to follow
• Take as many pictures as possible. Due to the speed at which the paddles move, they can often restrict the views of the athletes

But most importantly enjoy yourself

Tomorrow’s post will show the Olympic events taking place in less than 2 weeks at Lee Valley.

The basics of slalom technique and terminology

Today’s attention shifts to describing the basics of the canoe slalom course and the techniques used to negotiate the course, after having reviewed each of the four Olympic canoe slalom classes in turn this week.

A simplistic illustration of a river with canoe slalom gates (reproduced from ‘go slalom canoeing’ leaflet by Laura Blakeman & Etienne Stott)

The goal for the slalom paddler is to race as fast as possible from the start gate to finish, negotiating up to 25 slalom gates without touching them. The ‘gates’ must be negotiated in numerical order and they can be divided into downstream gates identified with green and white poles and upstream gates identified by red and white gates. I will spend a later post studying the detail of the rules and how they are judged but simply a two second penalty is incurred for touching one or both poles of a gate and 50 seconds is added to the run time for missing or incorrectly negotiating the gate.

In basic terms, the green gates are positioned in the current of the river flowing downstream and the red and white gates are positioned in slack water behind obstructions called eddies. See the sketch alongside, which shows two red and white upstream gates and four downstream gates. The water is flowing from top to bottom. In Olympic competition there should be 18-25 gates in total of which at least 6 must be upstream, identified with red and white poles. The rules have changed recently, previously the gate was always 1.2 metres wide, however now the two poles can be separated apart and so in an upstream breakout only one pole may be suspended 20cm above the water (the other is suspended over the bank).  As mentioned before the C1, and C2 to a slightly lesser extent, are advantaged/ disadvantaged when the red and white upstream is on the left of right depending on whether the paddler is left or right handed. The course designer must ensure the course design is balanced to challenge all competitors equally. The course also needs to be designed so that it is feasible for all four classes of paddler to successfully complete it.  Good course design offers paddlers different options on how to complete in the fastest and cleanest way. Paddlers will be challenged especially on big whitewater like Lee Valley and use a full combination of forward, backward, turning and maybe even rolling!

All four classes compete on the same sequence of gates. There are a core set of slalom gate ‘moves’, which are describe below:

C1 Dan Goddard negotiating red and white upstream gate breakout (photo courtesy of John Gregory)

The breakout is the technique used to negotiate the upstream gate positioned in an eddy. The paddler needs to manoeuvre themselves from the downstream current into the eddy, through the gate and back into the downstream current. Simple! Well not quite. Slalom paddlers will have spent thousands of hours in a kayak practicing this single manoeuvre by the time they reach the Olympics. It is possible to gain or lose significant seconds over your competitors based on how well or tightly this is performed. The ultimate is to paddle hard tight behind the gate, use one turning stroke to turn while negotiating the gate and pull yourself immediately back into the downstream current. In the newer 350cm length kayaks and C1s this has become much more achievable. It does, however, take lots of practice, balance and advanced whitewater skills. I recommend watching the paddlers helmet because the best slalom paddlers are never stationary but maintain a certain amount of boat speed and momentum.

Fiona Pennie on a left hand breakout using a bow rudder stroke (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Sometimes, two upstream gates will be positioned on opposite sides of the river in numerical order and the slalom paddler can use a technique called ferry gliding or surfing to paddle from one side of the current to the other without being washed downstream.

In canoe slalom the stroke used to negotiate the upstream gate is called a bow rudder, accompanied by powerful turning/ sweep strokes. There are defined techniques for doing an upstream in 3 strokes and 5 strokes depending on the position of the upstream red and white gate within the eddy. In essence the goal is to approach the upstream wide in and exit tight to the exit pole, trying to avoid dropping too far below the upstream gate on entering the eddy or spending too much time in the eddy above the gate after exiting as this slows down the paddlers run.

The stagger or offset is a sequence of green and white downstream gates which are spread across the width of the current. This is much tougher than on first appearance. Try it, without touching any of the gates. Tomorrow I will describe Scott Shipley’s interpretation and coaching advice. If the stagger is too tight then the paddler may have to spin their kayak (or canoe) around before paddling through the gate. The good slalom paddler will define their line through the stagger gates so they can maximise their boat speed.

In this simple world, breakouts are always in perfect static eddies and downstream gates are always in the current. Well that would be too easy so the course designers will test paddlers but placing upstream gates so that there may be some current flowing down through them. Equally downstream gates can be placed in the eddy, so this challenges the athlete to keep the kayak or canoe running downstream when it naturally wishes to turn around. Let me explain, when a kayak paddles from the current into an eddy at a 45 degree angle, the water at the front of the kayak is stationary, while the water affecting the back of the kayak is moving downstream. This causes the back of the kayak to overtake the front and therefore the kayak turns round to point upstream. Considerable time can be lost on the breakout gates.

There are some great resources now available to learn the basics of whitewater paddling and slalom techniques. These include, the BCU Canoe Slalom Technique Library videos, Scott Shipley’s great book ‘Every Crushing Stroke’, plus other resources such as the BCU ‘Canoeing Handbook’, ‘Slalom Canoeing’ by Gary Nevin in 1987, Bill Endicott’s legendary books ‘To Win the Worlds’ and the ‘Ultimate Run’, as well as YouTube of course. Although the sport and boat design has evolved the basics of good whitewater paddling technique and the common mistakes have changed relatively little!

Tomorrow’s post will look at the more advanced or refined slalom techniques that you would expect to see amongst the Olympic level competitors on the Lee Valley course.