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

New Year’s Honours List accolade for GB canoeists

I am delighted to report that Tim Baillie, Etienne Stott and Ed McKeever (200m sprint racing) have been awarded MBE (Member of the British Empire) in Queen Elizabeth II’s New Year’s Honours List. All three won gold at the London 2012 Olympics in August.

Click here for the link to the GB Canoeing page with a comment from GB Canoeing Performance Director, John Anderson, also an MBE.

Nick, Etienne, Mark, Richard, Etienne and Tim (photo courtesy of AE photos)
Nick, Etienne, Mark, Richard, David and Tim at the end of the C2 finals (photo courtesy of AE photos)

This is a fantastic end to the 2012 year for GB Canoeing and indeed the world-wide sport as a whole as it further raises the media profile of this exhilarating sport. The MBE’s also recognise the sustained Olympic performance by the whole of the GB Canoeing organisation over many many years, which culminated in our first ever canoe slalom gold medals and first Olympic medals in C2. Tim, Etienne and Ed now join Richard Fox who was awarded an MBE in 1986 for his services to British Sport. Photographs posted elsewhere show exciting and significant work at the Troja slalom site in Prague, which will host the 2013 World Championships in September.

Congratulations to you all. Happy New Year everyone. I hope you have written down your goals for 2013. I have!

Most promising paddler award

In an earlier post I suggested that it was not a question on whether Australia’s young 18 year old Junior World Champion would win a medal, only at which Olympics and what colour. For her to win a silver medal this afternoon at Lee Valley during London2012 is truly mind blowing. She won the Junior World Championship only last month in Wausau, USA.

For those in the sport, the name Fox is possibly the best known. Her father Richard was the 5 time World K1M individual champion between 1981 and 1993 (11 medals in total). I was blessed today to sit beside, Roger, Jessica’s grandfather to witness the GB C2 Gold and Silver and then Jessica’s silver medal in K1W. Jessica is coached by her mother, Miriam Jerusalmi-Fox who also won two World Championships (10 medals in total). Dad, Richard had the agony of a fourth place finish in Barcelona in 1992 so today will be a special day for the whole Fox family.

The K1W Olympic Gold medal was won by France’s Emilie Fer, 29 in a clear run of 105.90 seconds. Emilie had previously been 7th in Beijing and 4th at the 2011 World Championships. It is France’s second gold medal at Lee Valley following Tony Estanguet’s gold in the C1. Silver went to the young Jessica Fox and bronze to Maialen Chourraut.

So it only begs the question what we should expect from Fox in the 2013 Senior World Championships, Rio Olympics in 2016 and beyond? Richard inspired so many of us to take up canoe slalom it is truly special to see the legacy continue with a role model for a new generation.

Advances in boat design

Today, a short review of how the Olympic canoe slalom boat designs have changed through the history of the sport.

Bill Endicott’s iconic 1983 book ‘The Ultimate Run’

First, I have been asked about the significance of the name of last night’s post, my Ultimate Run. The Ultimate Run – Canoe Slalom at the Highest Levels’ is the name of Bill Endicott’s iconic book, written back in 1983. The phrase ‘Ultimate Run’ has become adopted by paddlers worldwide seeking that performance excellence and perfect negotiation of the course. As an aside, the Ultimate Run eBook has been created by daveyhearn.com with the permission of original author William T. Endicott.

Boats for this elite Olympic level competition are made of either carbon or a mix of carbon and aramid (often recognised by the name Kevlar), mixed with an epoxy polymer resin. The vacuum construction means a higher percentage of fibres and less resin and so less weight and greater strength. These fibres have a very high tensile strength to weight ratio. Foam sandwich construction in between layers of carbon or aramid fibres is used to further increase the stiffness of the boats. Each new Olympics tends to drive the advancement of the boats to meet the nuances of the newly constructed artificial course.

The ICF rules of canoe slalom define the specification of the boats, and the length of the kayak and canoe classes has reduced. The kayak length has reduced from 4 metres to 350cm and this has caused the sport to evolve with an increase in the difficulty of the courses that can be set and accomplished. As described yesterday, the boat can be pivoted around by sinking the stern under the water even easier than in the older 4 metre length kayaks and as you will see it is possible to do an upstream red and white gate on just one stroke, which looks sensational. For the paddlers and the manufactures the shorter lengths have meant that the boats are a bit less vulnerable to damage, use slightly less material (less weight) and it is easier to put the inside seams in. With modern carbon construction it is quite feasible to manufacture the kayak less than 9kg. The boat is made up to the 9kg minimum weight by adding extra under the seat. This causes the boat to spin faster than it would do than if the weight were evenly distributed along its length. The boats will be weighed at the end of each run at the Olympic Games, to ensure that emptied of water they meet the required minimum weight. The C1s are 350cm in length, 65cm wide and minimum 10kg, while the C2 is 410cm long, 75cm wide and minimum 15kg.

Mark Proctor, on the Lee Valley Whitewater course, sinking the back of his C1 (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

There have been key individual athletes that have contributed to the advancement of boat and paddle design like Richard Fox or Michal Martikan. Michal paddles a C1 with a very high rocker design called the Martikan 07, which many other C1 paddlers find insufficiently stable, however, this suits Michal’s paddling style. A key component to defining the best boat (kayak or canoe) is the weight of the paddler. A 80kg paddler will need a different volume boat than a 55kg paddler to provide the same forward paddler speed and responsiveness in turning.

In respect of paddle design and in a similar way Michal has evolved a specific paddle design called C1 Martikan! Some kayak paddlers use a cranked or Double Torque shaft which is not straight and is believed to reduce the strain on the wrist and allow greater pull. The paddles are all made of carbon which is stiff, very light and transfers the power to pull the boat towards the blade.

This is a far cry from the boats of the Munich Olympic in 1972, when canoe slalom made a single appearance on the Eiskanal in Augsburg. Not until La Seu d’Urgell in the Spanish Pyrenees did canoe slalom reappear as part of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. At one time boats were folding until 1963 when boats constructed of chop strand mat fibreglass or nylon, before the introduction of woven polyester fibres such as Diolen. Boats were heavy, usually over 65 pounds (30 kilos). With the advent of aramid and carbon fibres from the 1970s, the ICF reduced the width of the boats which could now pass underneath the gate poles.

Tomorrow we will preview what is to come at the spectacular Lee Valley Whitewater Centre starting on Sunday.

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 www.canoeicf.com .

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.

 

 

Advanced slalom techniques – what makes the difference?

Is there really any such thing as advanced technique or is it perfecting something through 10,000 hours of practice as suggested by Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book ‘Outliers’? All these Olympic athletes have reached this 10,000 hours level in a kayak or canoe. Gladwell’s book also helps me understand why most World & Olympic champions are in their late 20’s because at that point they have reached 10,000 hours; Michal Martikan winning senior World’s C1 at the age of 16 was the exception. So much of advanced technique comes from that incredible comfort zone from being at one with the boat (kayak or canoe) and familiar with whitewater, no more so than in C2.

Richard Hounslow’s showing strong boat control at Lee Valley (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

Advanced slalom paddlers use their balance, body weight and the water itself more than the less experienced paddlers. They carve into eddies on the edge seam of the boat thus accentuating the turn and maintaining a higher boat speed. This requires good balance or edge control as we would call it. At other times, with straight forward paddling the boat is kept absolutely flat so that no energy is wasted rocking from one side to the other. The boat is also kept very flat on boils, which is water with lots of air bubbling up from underneath. Boils are common on artificial courses and are very unstable on which to paddle. On downstream gates in eddies the front of the boat is lifted and a C2 can use 150kg of weight in the boat to force a change in direction through a dramatic pivot turn. Elite paddlers have become masters of letting the water do the work for them rather than battling against it.  There are smart ways to use the power of the water to assist in spins or ferry gliding by using river features like stoppers or standing waves.

As the Olympic slalom paddler goes across the eddy line into the breakout their weight will be forward so that the upstream current in the eddy snatches the front of the boat faster and the boat turns much tighter. As these elite paddlers exit any upstream gates they are very quickly back on the power with a higher stroke rate to get the boat in the current and back up to speed. The classic definition of a breakout implies the paddler enters and exits on the same side, however, there are two exceptions 1) an upstream gate behind an obstruction in the middle of the current, particularly where the ideal exit is on the opposite side to the entry. This can be negotiated as a ‘S’ gate, describing the path the paddler makes going through the gate, entering from one side and exiting the other 2) a Merano upstream is one where the boat is paddled between the bank side pole on an upstream, then spin and enter the upstream gate line from the far side.

Again, I would refer to Scott Shipley’s excellent book ‘Every Crushing Stroke’. I particularly like his comparison or description of the Fox offset (stagger), Shipley offset and Ratcliffe offset, recognising that different paddlers have developed different paddling characteristic styles. Richard Fox was smooth,clean, crisp with a flat kayak, always passing through the centre of the gateline, whereas Paul Ratcliffe  ducked and dived around the poles. Advanced paddlers maintain excellent momentum at all times.

Using the back of the stopper wave to cross the current (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The Olympic paddlers will have totally memorized the course in their heads and before they cross the start line they will already have planned down to the individual stroke. This is through the use of mental imagery. They will imagine themselves paddling every gate on the course, not dissimilar to a tennis player or golfer practicing the serve or swing in their head before they actually make it. You can either imagine yourself doing it through your own eyes, or seeing yourself doing it from above or feel yourself doing it (called kinesthetic imagery), where you imagine what it will feel like to do that particular body movement and the sensation of the whitewater hitting your boat. If you watch paddlers examining the course or at the start you will often see them with their eyes shut doing exactly this. Their bodies will often be moving accordingly as they run through this perfect mental rehearsal. Richard Fox was potentially one of the best at this, before he started he already knew how many strokes and how many seconds it would take him to complete the course and on asking him once at Nottingham he was maybe 1 second and a couple of strokes out against what he actually did. Stunning! Sadly and particularly on whitewater it doesn’t always go to plan. Here the Olympic paddlers thousands of hour of practice come in as they adapt very rapidly to a plan B until they can slot themselves back into the original mental rehearsed plan A.

We can assume the paddlers at the Olympics are all at the peak of their fitness, we can assume they have all done 10,000 hours in a canoe or kayak and so all have advanced whitewater skills and technique so there is little to choose between them. So what will make the Olympic champions? First, the Olympics are like no other event. At Worlds, World Cup, European Championships the only people there in general are those deeply involved in the sport, athletes, coaches, managers, officials, parents, spouses etc. At Olympics this is so utterly different. They are paddling in a 12,000 seater tiered stadium with the World watching. Those few athletes at Lee Valley this month who have competed in a prior Olympics since 1992 and those that medalled which is approximately 11 athletes are at an advantage because it will not all be new to them. Second, the Olympic champions will be those who can deliver the ‘Ultimate Run’ according to their own mental rehearsal plan or can adapt so quickly that they do not falter from their plan. There will be top paddlers who for a split- second are pushed off their intended plan by an expected wave or a touch on a gate and will lose their focus and mental plan. They will finish but not deliver their medal winning run. One exception comes to mind; Richard Fox hit gate one in the 1989 Savage World’s and accelerated so much through the rest of the course he won by 5 seconds including a penalty!

Great edge control and balance on a cross (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

After the course has been set, meaning the exact positioning and sequence of gates on the whitewater, the paddlers have no opportunity to practice on the course. This means that visualisation is all the more important, watching other classes paddle the course, detailed discussion with coaches and watching video have become much more important. One tip on working out the best route down the course is to start examining the course from the finish and work your way up from the last gate to the start. The paddlers and coaches will analyse the set course stroke by stroke looking at how the water flows around the gates and the effect this would be expected to exert on the boat. Split times are used so that they can analyse the best options and understand how specific paddlers are either gaining or loosing time on an individual section.

As suggested yesterday there are some great resources now available to learn including the BCU Canoe Slalom Technique Library www.slalomtechnique.co.uk videos. Peter Terry’s book ‘Winning Mind’ is excellent and also ‘Stress & Performance in Sport’ by J Graham Jones and Lew Hardy.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the appeal of canoe slalom to photographers and some tips on obtaining that perfect shot.

K1M – Kayak Men’s Single

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

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

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

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

The rules of canoe slalom define the specification of the boats, in kayak this means the kayak must be 350cm long, 60cm wide and weigh not less than 9kg. The kayak length has reduced from 4 metres to 350cm and this has caused the sport to evolve.  The single kayak is the fastest in a straight line however in slalom the boat rarely runs straight for more than a few strokes. Also the shorter boats, shorter and bigger whitewater courses means that the run times are getting much tighter between K1M, C1 and C2. I will explain more over the coming days. With modern carbon construction it is quite feasible to manufacture the kayak less than 9kg. The boat is made up to the 9kg minimum weight by adding extra under the seat. This causes the boat to spin faster than it would do than if the weight were evenly distributed along its length. The kayaks will be weighed at the end of each run at the Olympic Games, to ensure that emptied of water they meet the required minimum weight.

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

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

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

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

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

GB Team K1M medallists are:

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

GB Olympic K1M medallists are:

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

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

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.