Athletes – who are they?

The athletes are really the very heart of the Olympics and today LOCOG finally published the official list of the paddlers for the canoe slalom. See London2012 website, ICF or BBC where you will find individual athlete profiles. Many are now in London preparing and settling into the Olympic village.

After yesterday’s post on the Competition Schedule for canoe slalom at Lee Valley it seems sensible today to provide some insights into the paddlers representing their nations in 11 days time. There is some change from the original qualification previously described. I have updated yesterday’s post accordingly. There will be:
22 K1M
21 K1W
17 C1
14 C2

So a couple of extra boats have gained qualification, including two C2 boats, one from Great Britain and one from the Czech Republic made up of a K1M and C1 paddler from the individual classes. This means that 30 nations will be represented in the Olympic canoe slalom event from North & South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia. The number of countries making up the respective classes are therefore as follows:
K1M – 22
K1W- 21
C1 – 17
C2 – 12

Here is my guide on the previous medallists, class by class:
In K1M:
Helmet Oblinger from Austria who was 4th in Sydney and 7th in Beijing;
Vavrinec Hradilek from Czech Republic who was World Championship silver medallist in 2010;
Eoin Rheinish from Ireland who was 4th in Beijing;
Daniele Molmenti from Italy who was the 2010 World Champion;
Mateusz Polaczyk from Poland who was World Championship silver medallist in 2011;
Peter Kauzer from Slovenia who is reigning World Champion. Peter is currently ranked ICF number 1 so will be the last K1M to go in the heat;
Benjamin Boukpeti from Togo who was Beijing Olympic bronze medallist;
Scott Parsons from USA who was 6th at the Athens Olympics.
In K1W:
Jessica Fox from Australia, Youth Olympic champion who retained her Junior World Championship title last week;
Corinna Kuhnle from Austria who is twice and reigning World Champion;
Stepanka Hilgertova from Czech Republic who was Olympic Champion both in Atlanta and Sydney as well as double World Champion from 1999 and 2003. She is the only canoe slalom athlete to have competed in all 6 Olympics;
Maialen Chourraut from Spain who is the bronze medallist from the World Championships;
Jasmin Schornberg from Germany who was the 2009 World Champion;
Lizzie Neave from Great Britain who won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2009;
Jana Dukatova from Slovakia who is the twice silver medallist from World Championships. She was World Champion in 2006 and is current ICF number 1 athlete meaning she will be last to go from the start in the heats of the K1W.
In C1:
Stanislav Jezek from Czech Republic who won bronze at the 2006 World Championship in Prague;
Tony Estanguet from France who was Olympic Champion in Sydney & Athens and 3 time World Champion;
David Florence from Great Britain who was Olympic silver medallist in Beijing and ICF number 1 athlete meaning he will be last to go from the start in the heats of the C1;
Michal Martikan from Slovakia who has two Olympic titles from Atlanta and Beijing as well as being 4 time World Champion.
In C2:
Jaroslav Volf and Ondrej Stepanek from the Czech Republic who were Olympic bronze medallists in Athens and silver medallists in Beijing;
David Florence and Richard Hounslow bronze medallists from the World Championships in 2010;
Mikhail Kuznetsov and Dmitry Larionov from Russia who were bronze medallists from Beijing;
Luka Bozic and Saso Taljat from Slovenia who were bronze medallists at the World Championships in 2009;
Pavlov & Peter Hochschorner from Slovakia who have four consecutive World Championship titles and 3 consecutive Olympic titles to their name. They are the ICF number 1 athletes meaning they will be last boat to go from the start in the heats of the C2.

The list above does not detract from the 56 other athletes who have won qualification as the one boat per class for the Olympics. I will discuss the merits of this in tomorrow’s post. Canoe Slalom is also unpredictable enough that someone who has not medalled before at Olympics or World Championships can produce the ‘Ultimate Run’ that every one is wishing to attain; thinking of Benjamin Boukpeti in Beijing or Shaun Pearce winning the 1991 World Championships in Tacen. For the full list of London2012 canoe slalom athletes in the respective four classes click here.

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In the posts coming up this week we will take a look at the significance of the Olympics versus World Championships, World Cup and European Championships. We will also reflect on last week’s Junior and U23 World’s which have just wrapped up in Wausau, Wisconsin, USA. What implication does this have on London2012 or on future Olympics? Finally this week we will describe how funding and sponsorship have been at the heart of how the sport has evolved since Canoe Slalom become a permanent fixture in the Olympics on July 29th 1992 at La Seu d’Urgell.

I apologise sincerely for any errors in the above lists. Forgive me but please comment and correct me!

Competition Schedule Canoe Slalom

Over the last week we have examined the four classes in turn, examined basic and advanced slalom technique and considered how to take great pictures. It makes sense therefore now to share what is planned on which days of the canoe slalom at the Lee Valley whitewater centre, situated between Waltham Cross and Waltham Abbey.

The competition starts on Sunday July 29th and finishes on Thursday August 2nd. It will be 5 days of thrilling, tense and exhilarating competition watched either from the spectacular 12,000 sweater stadium or on TV.

Heats: The heats comprise two timed runs down the course to which penalties in seconds will be added. There are 2 seconds for a touch on a gate and 50 seconds for missing or incorrectly negotiating the course. The better of the two timed runs, including penalties are used to rank the paddlers after the heat. Competitors go off at 2 minute and 30 second intervals, so each competitor is expected to finish before the next competitor crosses the start line.

Semi-finals: This is run in reverse order of the heats, with the winner of heat off last from the start. The semi-final comprises one timed run down a new course to which penalties (as above) are added.

Final: This is run in reverse order of the semi-final, with winner of semi-final off last from the start. This is one timed run down the same course as the semi-final to which penalties are added. Fastest time will be London2012 Olympic champion!

Sunday July 29th
First run of the C1 heat start at 1.30pm until 2.18pm. There will be 17 C1 boats in the heats. The boats go off in reverse ICF World Ranking order, meaning Great Britain’s David Florence will be last boat off as he is ranked number 1 by the ICF.

First run of the K1M heat start at 2.24pm until 3.27pm. There will be 22 K1M boats in the heats.

Second run of the C1 heat start at 3.42pm until 4.30pm. The order will be the same as the first run.

Second run of the K1M heat start at 4.36pm until 5.39pm. The order will be the same as the first run.

Monday July 30th
First run of the C2 heat start at 1.30pm until 14.09pm. There will be 14 C2 boats in these heats.

First run of the K1W heat start at 2.12pm until 3.15pm. There will be 21 K1W boats in these heats.

Second run of the C2 heat starts at 3.42pm until 16.21pm. The order will be the same as the first run.

Second run of the K1W heat start at 4.24pm until 5.27pm. The order will be the same as the first run.

Tuesday July 31st
First of the semi-finals with the C1 starting at 1.30pm until 2.06pm. There will be 12 C1 boats in the semi-final going in reverse order of their finish in the heat from Sunday. The winner of the heat will be the last off. The semi-final is made up of one run only.

Final run of the C1 as decider for the Olympic medals, starting at 3.06pm until 3.30pm. There will be only 8 boats remaining for the final comprising one run on the same course as the semi-final. Can ICF World Ranked number 1, David Florence win gold for Great Britain or will it be another showdown between Michal Martikan and Tony Estanguet?

The day concludes ten minutes after the field of play is called clear with the C1 Olympic medal ceremony. Ends 3.50pm.

Wednesday August 1st
Semi-final of K1M starting at 1.30pm until 2.15pm. There will be 15 boats in the semi-final going in reverse order of their finish in the heat from Sunday. The winner of the heat will be the last off. The semi-final is made up of one run only.

Final run of K1M as decider for the Olympic medals. There will be only 10 boats remaining for the final comprising one run on the same course as the semi-final. Can Great Britain add Olympic gold to its K1 Olympic canoe slalom medals?

The day concludes ten minutes after the field of play is called clear with the K1M Olympic medal ceremony. Ends 4.05pm.

Thursday August 2nd
Semi-final of the C2 starting at 1.30pm until 2pm. There will be 10 boats in the semi-final going in reverse order of their finish in the heat from Monday. The winner of the heat is last off. The semi-final is one run only.

Semi-final of the K1W starting at 2.12pm until 2.57pm. There will be 15 K1W boats in the semi-final going in reverse order of their finish in the heat from Monday.

Final run of C2 as decider for the Olympic medals starting at 3.18pm until 3.36pm. There will only be 6 C2 boats remaining for the final. Can Great Britain win Olympic gold or will Pavol & Peter Hochschorner land a historic 4th consecutive Olympic title?

Final run of the K1W as decider for the Olympic medals starting at 3.57pm until 4.26pm. There will only be 10 K1W boats remaining for the final.

The 5 days of Olympic canoe slalom competition concludes with the C2 and K1W medal ceremony after the field of play is called clear. Ends 5pm. We all go home, some happy, some sad and prepare for Rio in 2016!

I recommend consulting the International Canoe Federation (ICF) website for further details.

The exact number of C2s is now 14 following official publication by LOCOG on July 17th

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.

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.

Punters Guide to Olympic Form

I have been challenged to explain what exactly does the Punters Guide mean exactly. Well it appears to be more of a UK term around placing a bet on a race, usually horse racing but there are similar references to golf and several other sports. There is also some interesting nostalgic reference to this Punters Guide term. Penny Briscoe and I wrote a Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Great Britain Canoe Slalom Team guide including the …Punters Guide to Olympic Form…

Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Great Britain Canoe Slalom Team

This contains some interesting perspective too in reference to these current London Olympics. Amongst our ‘Punters Guide to Olympic Form’ written in the year 2000, we identified Stepanka Hilgertova, Paul Ratcliffe, Michal Martikan, Tony Estanguet and Pavol & Peter Hochschorner as possible medal contenders.

Punters Guide to Olympic Form written in 2000

Well, we hope you followed our advice as Stepanka Hilgertova in K1W and Pavol and Peter Hochschorner in C2 won gold in Sydney! Even more impressive to appreciate is that we expect them to be racing in the 2012 Olympics, twelve years after Sydney in 22 days time. I note too that two of the GB Team coaches from 2000 will be doing live race commentary at Lee Valley and several of the Team GB Sydney Olympic paddlers are themselves coaching the GB Olympic team paddlers, including the Sydney Olympic silver medallist Paul Ratcliffe.

So enough of history, what can we predict for London 2012? The Hochschorners (Slovakia) will be aiming for a historic forth consecutive Olympic gold in C2, having won in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. Can’t write them off as they enter Lee Valley for the heat on July 30th as reigning Olympic Champions, World Champions and at the end of June 2012 ranked 1 by the International Canoe Federation (ICF). There are 12 other C2 crews competing and capable of a win. I recommend the Planet Canoe Facebook page where you will find an interesting interview with Pavol and Peter about their ‘quest’ for a 4th successive gold. fb.me/AYl4QRXV

In other classes, Michal Martikan from Slovakia and Tony Estanguet from France have been trading Olympic & World Championship gold and silver medals. Michal first won Olympic gold in Atlanta, Tony won gold in Athens then Michal again won gold in Beijing. As an indicator to the competition for Olympic places, the C1 2011 World Championship gold, silver and bronze medallists in C1 have not qualified for London2012! Great Britian’s C1 paddler, David Florence enters as the ICF rank number 1 and will be the last C1 off the start in the heat on July 29th.  There are several Mens and Womens kayak paddlers in strong contention for an Olympic medal. In K1M, Peter Kauzer from Slovenia is current World Champion and ICF ranked 1. Togo paddler Benjamin Boukpeti is the only previous Mens K1 Olympic medallist in the field. Italian Daniele Molmenti, coached by 1992 Olympic champion Pierpaolo Ferrazzi, was a previous World Champion from Tacen in 2010. In K1W, as mentioned above Stepanka has remarkable race consistency under pressure. Jana Dukatova from Slovakia, which is actually the most successful Olympic canoe slalom nation, was the 2011 World Championship silver medallist and current ICF ranked number 1 with Corinna Kuhnle from Austria is the reigning World Champion. It is impossible not to highlight Australian Jessica Fox, the only just 18 year old former Singapore 2000 Youth Olympic champion. Those from the olden days of canoe slalom can’t help to recognise the name Fox. Jessica’s parents, Richard and Myriam won a staggering 18 World Championship gold medals. If Jessica doesn’t medal in London, you would not bet against her to win gold in one or more of the next 4 Olympics!!

The Sportscene website includes their January 2012 prediction although not all the paddlers they include have qualified. They do unsurprisingly pick out Michal Martikan, Peter Kauzer, Jana Dukatova and Pavol & Peter Hochschorner as their punters favourite picks.

Tomorrow’s post will review the 7 GB Team athletes who have qualified for London2012. As a side note, the Olympic torch will come to Lee Valley tomorrow where 15 year old GB Junior paddler Zachary Franklin will run with the torch and 23 year old C1 paddler Mark Proctor will carry the torch through Chelmsford. Good luck Zachary and Mark. Please shares pictures.