Inside the 2017 Freestyle Worlds with James Mc Beath – #1 Let the World’s begin
Everyday during the 2017 ICF World Freestyle Championships, Jackson Kayak’s James McBeath is sending us his off beat views on what is going in San Juan where the worlds are taking place this year. Right about now, James McBeath should be sitting uncomfortably on a rock in Argentina covering his 11th World Freestyle Championships. Buuuut he’s not. He’s sitting comfortably in the snow of Eastern Canada watching on from the proverbial online peanut gallery. Follow along each day as he recaps what he sees from a distance. Photography: Peter Holcombe/ famagogo.com
Let the World’s Begin (way better than letting it end)
Argentina. From most of the major freestyle nations, Argentina is about as far as you can go without the use of modern rocket technology. 12 hours of actual flight time from most of the USA, 14 from the UK, 14 from Canada and somehow only 16 hours of flying time from Australia (need to check my sources on that one). Not a lot of the athletes flew direct, most choosing to fly in to Chile and drive across the Andes in to San Juan, home of the 2017 ICF World Freestyle Canoe Championships. No, wait, think thats the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships. There, much better.
San Juan is an oasis in the foothills of the Andes and sits about 2100 feet above sea level with the San Juan River one of its primary geographical features. The metropolitan area plays host to just over 500,000 citizens and is a cool blend of Argentinian history and modern civilization. For the purposes of our freestyle athletes, that scenario provides a stage thats a blend of the natural San Juan River and modern rock shifting expertise to create the ultimate playspot.
Most athletes are describing the feature as “cool” or “awesome”. The older athletes provide a more in-depth analysis of the hydraulic: “Its really cool” says one athlete. In all seriousness (something I’ll try to do more, promise) the hole is incredible. Slightly modified by the Kayak Club San Juan, this feature welcomes pretty much all the big moves and combos. The words “McNasty” and “Phonix Monkey » kept circulating all month as athletes began to arrive and train amongst rumbling that the scores are going to be high. In an article written for the ICF web site, Frenchman Tom Dole warned that the 2000 point mark will be . From the looks of many of those elite athletes in training especially our junior friend, Tom Dole himself, that may just happen.
This feature is very retentive, welcomes the big combos, accommodates speedy transitions from one high scoring move to another and allows even for some of the high scoring wave moves (there’s a little talk about the scoring of those). Entry moves are accessible from an upstream eddy so expect those athletes with a bit more point greed to take advantage of that. In all many of the athletes have been practicing very technically challenging routines. In this year’s training you can see vast differences in athlete programs, something that will keep the judges on their toes. Some of the combos blur in to one full routine adding to the potential of multiple 2000+ point rides.
The most interesting thing about this year’s World’s is just how close the athletes are in calibre. Where in some divisions there has been some “run-away” leaders, this year the gap is no where near as wide: The token “Dane’s gonna win it” in mens K1 is now “that other dude is pretty good though”. Hunter Kat has been rocking the freestyle scene for a few years now only to come up short on some of the bigger comps; is it his time to kick it into high gear? This is also the perfect feature for Stephen Wright. This is a fella who can literally bust a move on demand. His combos and technical prowess can easily get him scores in the 2000’s. The European freestyle scene has been very active with a late European Championships and team trials only months before the Worlds. This has allowed folks like Tomasz Czaplicki of Poland and Spaniard Quim Fontaine to peak at the right time. Mathieu Dumoulin of France (or Colorado, not sure) has placed on the podium more times to count, never with the win at the Worlds. He too is ready for his top podium finish.
In the Women’s K1 category we have a closer group still. Claire and Emily are always up there as the ones to beat but there are others nipping at their heals especially from Japan with Hitomi Kataku and a very full contingent from Europe including Sofia Tula of Poland and Nina Czonka of Slovakia who are well trained and ready to take the top spot. The nature of the feature plays well for most of these ladies as they are all very comfortable with the dynamic combos that will ensure a win.
In the Junior ranks the competition is very tight in the mens division. The young lads are scoring as well as the senior mens in practice! US’s Hayden Vorhees is stelar on the San Juan river as are the Brit duo of Alex and Harry. The runaway train that has been Sage Donnelly in junior girls is no longer a done deal either! In comes a new name on the circuit, Ottie Robinson-Shaw from England. No one in this entire World’s field has head turned more than Ottie. This will be the nail biter for sure.
C1 will have another tight field with Dane Jackson of the US defending his title vs Jordan Poffenberger but with the added threat of Seth Chappell and Tad Dennis rounding out the USA stronghold in this sport this too will be a fight to the finish. The technical aspect of C1 has closed the gap to those two -bladed scores so expect to see some jaw dropping spins out there.
Squirt competition starts the world’s off this week. There are some great stories out there as we sit glued to the live stream. Will legendary Clay Wright pull off another awesome session with mystery moves and countless ends as he did on the Ottawa in 2015? Will Hitomi finally take the crown from Claire? Who will propose to whom this year? Strong US, Canadian and European contingents will make this a tight competition.
Wow. Got very serious there for a minute. Sorry. Opening ceremonies were held last night under the stars in San Juan. As the procession of athletes were announced in to take a seat at over 200 empty white chairs expectations are high. Welcomes from the mayor and ICF leadership, traditional dancers and team chants echoed the San Juan night topped off with fireworks. Let the games begin!