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.

New Olympic K1M champion waiting in the wings

Another thrilling spectacle here at Lee Valley for the canoe slalom K1M semi finals. Reigning World Champion Peter Kauzer from Slovakia hit gate 9 and then blistered down the rest of the course. he finished with 96.02 including his two second penalty. Based on the final split he made up 2 seconds in the last 5 gates before the finish. Clear his time would have been an awesomely quick 94.02 seconds. He will start last in the final this afternoon.

Through to the final are: Aigner, Hernanz, Hradilek, Kauzer, Polaczyk, Molmenti, Oblinger, Daille, Boukpeti and Yazawa. This marks Japan’s first progression to an Olympic final. The run times were comparable with yesterday’s C1 showing how tight and technical this course is. Many paddlers have lost a second or two just above gate 10 by crossing just a little too high, including Hounslow. Three paddlers came unstuck incurring 50 second penalties. Hanes Aigner from Germany who was last down in the semi continued his excellent form, although he picked up a 2 second penalty on gate 22. Nevertheless, he is safely through to what is expected to be a nail-biting final.

Further disappointment for TeamGB with Richard Hounslow failing to make the top 10 for the final. Richard incurred a 2 second penalty for touching gate 19, which was clearly a shock for him as he crossed the line and looked up at the scoreboard. Richard and David will now re-group with their coach Nick Smith to focus on the upcoming semi-final in C2 tomorrow. This is a class in which Great Britain has never previously medaled at Olympics but we do have the advantage of two boats having qualified for the semi-finals.

Full results of the semi-final and finals in K1M plus a preview of the final day of competition to come later tonight.

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

Go Go Team GB!

OK, let me indulge for the day with a little more UK flavour. There are five paddlers selected by the British Olympic Association to represent Team GB at the Olympic Canoe Slalom at Lee Valley. They are:

K1M: Richard Hounslow

K1W: Lizzie Neave

C1: David Florence

C2: Richard Hounslow & David Florence and Etienne Stott & Tim Baillie

As you may know if you have been following this blog from the start, Great Britain is the only nation to have qualified a fifth boat in canoe slalom for the Olympics, nine other nations have four boats and the remaining twenty nations between 1-3 boats respectively. So why I hear you ask? Well, for a new Olympic Games commencing London 2012 if the selected pair in C2 have also been selected in the individual classes then the nation is entitled to qualify a second mens C2 boat to the Games. Richard and David had qualified for the individual K1M and C1 classess respectively, so can also paddle C2 at the Olympics. Incidentally they also won GB Team selection in C2, but the rule allows Team GB to send a second C2 crew of Etienne Stott and Tim Baillie.

David, Richard, Tim and Etienne congratulate each other at end of GB Team selection. Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett

So in C2, the number of boats at the Olympics has risen from 12 to 13 and Great Britain has two C2 crews amongst the 13 at the start of the heats. Looks good. Better still when both crews have medalled at previous World Championships together in the team event and David & Richard have taken a win at the 2012 World Cup race. From memory, I think Fabien Lefevre from France is the only athlete that comes to my mind to compete at a World Championship in two classes. David & Richard I believe will be the first paddlers to compete in two classes at the Olympics in canoe slalom. There has been much discussion about whether this is physically and mentally possible or whether an athlete should choose and focus on only one class. Well the proof is that both David and Richard are in exceptional shape and mentally tough. They have proven through previous World Championships, World Cup races and GB Team selection that they can handle it. It does of course also give them extra water time on the course compared to other athletes so could present an advantage.

David Florence, 29, who like Tim Baillie also hails from Aberdeen, Scotland moved down to the area to train full time on the course, juggling the demands of C1 and C2. He brings experience to the team as the only one of the five Team GB paddlers competing in Lee Valley to have competed in a previous Olympic Games, from which David won a C1 silver medal in Beijing. Like Lizzie Neave he had become British Champion back in 2005 which he held for the next two seasons. He starts the heat of London2012 as the ICF World ranked number 1 in C1 following a win at the first World Cup race in Cardiff and silver in La Seu D’Urgell. He appreciates that whilst every athlete is on their own to lay down the ultimate run, Michal Martikan and Tony Estanguet also come with exceptional experience and flare. David has beaten them both in the past and was World Cup series champion in 2009.

Richard Hounslow, 30, is the local amongst the Canoe Slalom team having grown up in Harrow. He is a former British National Champion. He and David did not start competing together in C2 until the 2009 season, when he became one of the first paddlers to compete in K1 and C2 classes. In 2010, Richard and David won bronze at both World and European Championships in the C2. This was highly significant in UK C2 terms. It is the first and only individual C2 World Championship medal won by Great Britain in C2, although there had been a few C2 Team medals. (I will describe the Team event in a subsequent blog post but enough to say it does not apply to the Olympic Games).

In ladies kayak, Lizzie Neave, 24, won qualification to these Olympics in emphatic style winning all three selection races in April. It was mighty tense down to the very last paddler down. Lizzie came up through the sport as part of the Stafford & Stone canoe club, who have won 19 Interclub Championship since 1985! At the age of 14 Lizzie made the British junior team. In 2005, still a J18 paddler, Lizzie became British National Champion for the first time, giving us a glimpse of what to expect from her in the future as her strength and race experience developed further. This materialized at the senior World Championships in La Seu d’Urgell where in 2009 she became K1W bronze medallist and World K1W Team Champion. She is in good form following her bronze medal at the 2011 European Champions and last month’s bronze medal at the Pau World Cup race 2.

Lizzie is coach by Paul Ratcliffe who won a silver medal in K1M in Sydney. There are many similarities between the Lee Valley course and the Penrith Whitewater centre as well as La Seu d’Urgell, all of which are artificial slalom course built for recent Olympic Games. In a Canoe Focus issue Lizzie described how important it was to her to move down from Nottingham to London to be close to the Lee Valley course.

Lizzie Neave racing at World Cup 1 on Cardiff whitewater course
Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett

Back to C2, our second crew is Etienne Stott, 33, & Tim Baillie, 33. Stott & Baillie were British National Champions in 2008, 2009 and 2010.  In both 2009 and 2011 they were part of the 3 boat C2 team which won bronze medals at the World Championships in La Seu d’Urgell and and Bratislava respectively. They have had a good 2012 season currently lying 3rd overall after the first three World Cup races in Cardiff, Pau and La Seu d’Urgell. They are coached by Nick Smith, who represented Team GB in C2 at the Sydney Olympics.

Stott & Baillie at 2012 Word Cup Race 1 in Cardiff, UK
Photo courtesy of Michael Barnett

More can be found at GB Canoeing website. Over the next week I will share one post a day to explain the four classes, K1M, K1W, C1 and C2 profiling the boats, paddles and techniques. Stay tuned. Tomorrow’s post will pay tribute to a true trail blazer in canoe slalom remembering Martyn Hedges who we lost 20 years ago just before the Barcelona Olympics and looking at how the sport has evolved since it came back into the Olympic programme in 1992.