Inside the 2017 Freestyle Worlds with James Mc Beath – #6 Rivalry
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
Grandma McBeath once told me “its all about being sexy”. The sexy story in any successful competition is always the rivalry. Mano a mano (look at me typing in Spanish) can be found all over these 2017 ICF Canoe World Freestyle Championships. Whether it be athletes who have always ended up staring at each other’s names on the scoreboard, or countrymen with face paint and flags, this is what makes an event sexy. Spin a great story, sides are taken and the audience gets invested in the event. Its not a new trick to attract viewers, the last Olympics we had a Canadian swimmer who was 124th in the world rankings and our national network fella states “you never know, he may just reach down and pull off a medal”. That rivalry is what makes it all so much fun. Go Canada…
Back in the day… (you didn’t think I’d leave it out did ya?) Back in the day, we had rivalries all over the map. Starting at the 60,000 foot level, the top athletes came from a wide variety of countries. Though the US could have been considered a powerhouse from the start, mostly due to top placings, in total numbers athletes came from a very spread out number of countries. In recent years European and Asian countries like Great Britain and Japan have started to edge onto the podiums with regularity. Hot zones like Germany, Poland and Czech Republic started producing rivalry-stimulating athletes. Like any sport, if your team starts to climb in the standings and do well, heads turn and the fan bases grow. Online streaming stats from the NOC worlds had the concentration of viewers from… drum roll… Europe! Those countries are passionate about their water sports. Mentioned in a previous article, some slalom fan bases are huge. Their events, as a result, are well attended and feature hoards of fans with faces painted, flags, noise makers and the scene is crazy. If you were at the NOC worlds you will remember the French and their percussion brigade. Those covering these events, the TV/live streaming and written media, always hedge their viewership bets on stirring up the country pride. It works and as a result we have more and more nationalistic fans out there than ever.
On the water it’s all about the athletes. This next part is interesting (least I hope it is) cause the athlete story of THIS year’s world’s spans close to the whole history of Rodeo/Freestyle World Championships. EJ, Clay, Emily, Claire, Jesse and many others have been here since the late 90’s early 2000’s. Some a generation after that including Tomaz C, Peter Csonka and the mighty Japanese girls like Hitomi. Then there’s this layer of new names who have simply surprised us or we’re old and we forgot about them. The end result is this incredibly intertwined layer upon layer of rivalry.
In the junior ranks, as predicted the women’s story will be Donnelly vs Robinson-Shaw. Both have been training hard in their respective countries, both with huge fan bases of athletes and families and both only a year 80 points apart at any given time. The JR men’s surprise sensation, Tom Dolle, led from start to finish surpassing the 1500 point single ride score and not looking back at anyone closer than 400 points. Great Britain (France’s favourite rival) sits #2 and 3 after the semis with Prince’s Alex and Harry ready to do battle. This one will be interesting.
C1 cannot be forgotten in all this as it has every element of a fun storied rivalry. There are some long bearded old dudes in this one. Sorry, its just fun thinking of C1ers with beards. Dane Jackson again takes the top contender spot, but with one paddle he’s got a hand tied behind his back opening the door to veteran Seth Chapelle and long time rival Jordan Poffenberger. The final heat is rounded off with Frenchman Sebastian Devred and Lukas Cervinka of Czech and all are within a three hundred points of each other.
Todays Quarters and semis as well as tomorrow’s finals highlight these rivalries in a cool show of mixed emotions: Emily Jackson, 3-time champ bested by Claire O’hara – a long time rival who has swapped championships with Emily. Hitomi who has come silver more times than anyone. Zofia who has been strong all year in her first claw at the top 5, and surprise successes of Islay Crosbie and Marlene Deviellez. The picture painted in the upcoming women’s finals is the most exciting I’ve ever seen. Something old, something new something borrowed and something blue. From prelims to finals, we’ve seen different leaders in this division, so anything goes. Two brits fighting it out for national pride, Japanese girl who’s always been second, never first in K1, Polish girl who has had an incredible 2017 on and off the water hoping for that storybook ending and the surprise french girl sneaking in to second in the rankings so far. Wow.
In mens its a bit less dramatic with Dane seemingly immortal; but not far behind him comes the heat. The quarters had a number of fan bases placing hands to faces (there’s that rhyme again). Eric Jackson, Nick Troutman, Peter Czonka, fan favourite Bartoz and others who hoped to be in the finals have left the building. The stories left behind are just as cool though. Stephen Wright has been in the show for a LONG time and his technical prowess has paid off: this is the right feature at the right time for him. The Spaniard Quim Fontaine has fire in his blood stirring the Spanish speaking populous with his bravado fist pumps and intense focus. Newby Robert Crowe is the highlight reel from Great Britain who has turned more heads than EJ’s speedo and was 230 points from Dane: There are 8 moves in freestyle that, with a small bonus, will gain Crowe the win. Eight, I counted.
Bottom line these finals will have all the sexy drama you will ever need save outright fisticuffs and that nasty talk you see on the Geraldo show. I can paint a picture of bitter rivals, nasty international relations and human hate: but, alas, each one of these folks genuinely likes the others in their finals. Its like they’re all Canadian. So sit back, get your face painted, load up on the beer and chips… this is going to be a GREAT Saturday of finals!
This will be my last article. I’ll let this World’s thing play out and I’ll watch it with peace of mind knowing that there’s no angry French dude waiting for my article first thing Sunday morning. Hope you enjoyed the prose.
… James out. Go Canada!! Oh… drat.