Since my last blog post there have been lots of changes here at NOC… you can definitely tell there is a World Championships on the way! The stands, or bleachers as they are called over here, have been erected, lights for the night time semi-finals have arrived and tents have been put up everywhere to designate the different athlete zones. A massive banner stretching across the wall next to the feature has also be put up, making a great backdrop for the media’s photos. More and more athletes are also around the site. 90%+ of the competitors are now taking part in the training sessions during the day. We have also received our accreditation passes which allow us into various parts of the site and which we will need to wear at all points during the competition (apart from on the water). All together it’s creating a great vibe around the site. As everyone is getting used to the feature the practice ride scores are ever increasing. My bet is on for a 1500 point+ winning ride.
The GB team in particular are doing great on the water. One thing that is interesting to note is that there are often more people watching our sessions (despite the time changing) than all other countries except perhaps the Americans where similar numbers turn up to watch. Coaches from 3 of 4 different nations can normally be found videoing our sessions to see where we are at. I think this comes from the quality across the board of British paddlers, not just a few superstars. Yesterday we had our team meal. We have a team meeting every day to discuss various issues and communicate information but the team meal is a great opportunity to relax as a whole team in a more informal environment and thank all the volunteers such as Den, Sam, Tim, Dave and all the parents for their support.
One of the best experiences over the last few days has been the communities outreach program that has been organised. The GB team were asked for a few volunteers to go into a local school to talk about the sport and educate the kids. I put myself forward for this and was really pleased that I did so. At 8 in the morning yesterday 7 of us met to head off in one of the NOC trucks to Swain County Middle School. Islay Crosbe and I spent about 40 minutes with one class of 12-13 year olds discussing the world championships, kayaking and England. We took our boats, paddles and kit along with us. Most of the kids hadn’t seen a kayak before (or met anyone from the UK) so it was a great experience for them to sit in the boats, try on the kit and ask us loads of questions. The kids were really enthusiastic and it was a really rewarding experience to get them excited about the event. Most of them are going to be involved in the opening ceremony on Monday and they are going to be trying rafting on the Nantahala River at some point next week. We also gave a second presentation to a larger group of kids; they were all wanted photos wearing the kit with us. Fantastic morning!
As a thank you for giving up our time the school then invited us back to their football (American Football) game that evening. This was an experience in itself! Considering this was a high school football match the crowds were huge! About 5000 people turned up to watch the game, the cheerleaders and the band that played during intervals. Despite not being a massive football fans all of us got caught up in the atmosphere and were pleased to see the “Maroon Devils” win 34-20 over the “Mustangs” from another local school Smokey Mountain High School. It was a nice surprise to be welcomed over the loud speaker and throughout the game locals were coming up to talk and ask us about what we do. It was also great to be welcomed by a bunch of the kids we met earlier in the day. We were also allowed to throw around a ball on the pitch with the quarterback which was pretty cool!
So over the two days nation training continues but on Monday competition begins with the opening ceremony in Bryson City. This involves a parade of flags down the high street with the marching band from Swain County High School and performances by the Warriors of Anikituhwa, a traditional Cherokee dance group. Following this there will be a big air competition off a 30ft ramp from the town bridge crossing the Nantahala! This is something that they want all the athletes to be involved in. The Smokey Mountain Times says “Kayakers will perform acrobatic moves when lifting off the ramp’s kicker. Each kayaker will go multiple times and be judged loosely by a panel.” Sounds like its going to be fun! Word on the street is that they are expecting 10,000 people to be at the opening ceremony!
To finish off today’s blog post, here is a quick video of one of my training competition rides from today...