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 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 &
The Deep Creek official programme first page spread of feature. Print version courtesy of Deep Creek 2014 Host Organising Committee &

In the previews and race reviews posted on the 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 website. Thanks for reading. Follow me @gregiej

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.

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.