The sun poked through the fog around 8:30 a.m., just in time for the judges to see the forerunners start the clocks—test run for today’s races. This is the Qualifiers for C-1 Men, C-1 Women and K-1 Men. Best run of two heats will allow the Top 30, 20, and 40 to advance to the semi-finals.   

The course may not look very difficult from shore, but the water on the ASCI course pulses unpredictably. The best slalom paddlers in the world are adjusting paddling styles to meet the course, where gates hang very near the minimum, 20 centimeters above the highest water pulse. Experienced gate judges impressively catch minute touches. I’d have to say this racecourse, being the longest of the season at 24 gates, is giving challenge to the world’s elite! The importance of keeping the focus right up to the end became apparent as athletes touched, or even gained 50-second penalties (for missing or wrong direction) in the last three gates. There were very few surprises over the runs, selecting the top qualifiers for semis.

C-1Men was a race between Germany and the Slovakia, as they took the top five spots. Three Americans placed in the top 30 to advance to the semis. Canada’s sole entry, Cam Smedley’s time would have placed him in 9th position, but with four penalty touches, it wasn’t meant to be. 

Watching the C-1 Women was grace on water. Switching has become the norm in the women’s class, especially on the inside of a turn giving the paddler much more power on their dominant paddling side.  A collection of nations secured the top ten spots with only France tripling up. Neither Canada nor the USA has a paddler advancing to the semis. 

Top ten in K-1 Men were this season’s consistent leaders, France, Germany, Poland and Slovenia. All three USA boats, Smolen, Lefevbre, and Powell advanced to the semis. Canada’s Ben Hayward brought tingles to anyone who watched his second run—he shaved his beard just days before, wanting to ensure his bushy winter warmth didn’t cause a reason to not reach his goal. Just two weeks ago at the Canadian Championships on the Madawaska River, Ben hit a gate pole with his beard. The same happened in Europe at a World Cup in Augsburg. The margins are too close in the international arena for Ben to take this chance. 

Highlights from Thursday are not just on the water. The weather was incredible with blue skies allowing t-shirts & shorts to be spectator attire. The venue has raised the bar for whitewater in North America with duplicating a natural looking river.

“This is crazy,” said C-2 stern paddler Wojeciech Staniszewski, returning from Poland to the site of his 1989 World Championships, “I thought to myself, driving up the mountain to watch a whitewater event…we normally drive deep into a River Valley.”

As the sport changes, as does how we meet up—many past competitors have stayed in touch through Facebook. In fact, that is how the Old School Racer Gathering came to be. The event is happening in Ohiopyle, PA, Saturday afternoon and evening. From Dave Curran (former USA slalomite)’s FB event, it looks like well over 100 paddlers plan to show up. 

Looking ahead at Friday’s schedule, there is a unique twist: after the K-1Women and C-2 Men heats, the K-1 Men will be racing semi-finals. This means the course change must occur very quickly. Demos for semis are scheduled for 1:45pm. Semi-finals for 40 K-1 Men is slated for 4:15 with a two-minute interval. 

Let’s hope it all wraps up before the autumn sun drops below the Wisp Mountain. 

Claudia Kerckhoff-van Wijk is proud to be an Old School Boater. She’s a ten time Canadian Slalom champion, 5th 1979 Worlds in Jonquiere, Bronze medallist in Slalom, and owner of Madawaska Kanu Centre and OWL Rafting.



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