Thursday, August 29, 2013

World Freestyle Championships... Days 1 to 3

As with many great kayaking trips; the journey begins at stupid o’clock in a UK airport with an overweight boat and an argument with the check in assistant over why they shouldn’t charge you an extra $100 for taking a paddle. Why all the stress? The 2013 Freestyle Kayaking World Championships of course!

My journey to the world champs actually began four months ago with GB Team selections held at Nottingham and Hurley. These events are designed to select the best team possible to bring home medals with between three and five spots available for each class depending on the event. I placed well in each event so was selected as first place C1 paddler. After selections the training then begins in earnest. Training for me involved individual paddling sessions and the official GB training sessions. At these three weekends the GB team have access to some of the best freestyle coaches in the county (Dennis Newton and Sam Ward) as well as strength and conditioning experts and physios to fix any niggling problems. Jonathan “Malley” Males, one of the key people behind the Australian Olympic Slalom team also was on hand to help us with the psychological aspect of competing.  It is due to these people giving up their time to help that we have been able to bring such a strong team to the event.

So, back to the competition… the event is being held at the Nantahala Outdoor Centre in the Smokey Mountains, North Carolina, this meant that I had to fly into Charlotte Airport which is about a four hour drive away. A shuttle bus was provided to get us to the competition, what with the long flight and the time difference it was a pretty tough journey but when we were arrive we were treated to our first sight of the feature, all be it in the pitch black! Despite the late hour there was still a queue of about 15 paddlers trying to maximise their time on the feature. Despite the urge to jump straight in my kit and hit the water I knew it was best to catch up on some sleep and get into the swing of American timings.

Local Transport

I arrived at the site late on Sunday evening and Monday was the first day of nation’s training. Nations training always starts about a week before the event and allows all the paddlers to have a constructive session with the other athletes from your country without massive queues. Each paddler is allocated about 135 seconds (3 x 45 second rides), so for the GB team gets about an hour on the water each day. These sessions are vital as it allows us to work with the coaches and dial in our moves for the new feature. We split the session in half with to allow for two more intense half hour sessions with the women, girls and C1 paddlers in the first and men and junior men in the second. In these sessions we get between 4 to 5 rides… not much considering we travelled 4000 miles to paddle here! The parents and non-paddlers all chip into help with the session. Every single ride is videoed for analysis later in the day. We also have a buzzer at 35 and 45 seconds to show when your time is up in the hole. We have a set order to paddle in so that no time is wasted with deciding who’s go it is. Everything is set up to maximise the time on the water.

Going for the loop!
The water is dam released and depending on the day, the water normally arrives between 10 and 10.30 with nation’s training starting at 11.30. This also gives a bit of time in the morning for free practice. The queue in the morning is about 30 paddlers long and when you are in the line-up with paddlers such as Eric and Dane Jackson it doesn’t move quick! Normally you have to wait about 30 minutes for one ride so it’s important to make it count!
Monday’s training for me was about getting to know the feature, learning the best way to set up and playing with a few tricks. Yesterday’s session was focused on starting to throw all the moves and get the scoring percentages up. Today my aim was putting together full rides. This will continue through the rest of the week. My ride plan will be developed with Den and Sam to maximise my potential in the competition.
Nation’s training continues until Monday when we have the opening ceremony in the local town of Bryson City. The competition then runs throughout the week with heats, quarters, semis and then finals on the Sunday. There are over 25 countries competing at the event from Australia to Costa Rica with over 200 athletes attending.

Team Costa Rica

One thing that is really evident about the whole event is the friendliness and helpfulness of all the staff and helpers. We have an awesome local chef who will cook us anything we want who makes some pretty mean brownies! Everyone goes about their business with a smile on their face and a can-do attitude.  
I will keep posting on the blog throughout the event, hopefully daily from next Monday so keep your eye on the blog for all the latest news!