Inside the 2019 ICF Freestyle Worlds – #1 Let the World’s begin
by Kathy Holcombe
Everyday during the 2019 ICF World Freestyle Championships, Kathy & Peter Holcombe are sending us their views on what is going on in Sort (Spain) where the worlds are taking place this year. Follow along each day as they recap what they see from the river bank.
It’s 10:00 AM and the eddy is packed. Just an hour ago, the river was vacant with a trickle of water gliding mere inches above the giant blocks that line the riverbed below. But that glassy miniature wave is now a churning hole that spans the width of the river and there are literally boats covering every inch of calm on either side of the feature. Snippits of conversations in a dozen different languages carry up to the judges stand that is poised like a watchtower high on the rocks above.
Twelve days ago there was an excavator in the riverbed moving around the boulders that form the feature in an effort to make it a little deeper. The days following deliver a wide variety of flow rates as event officials and athletes debate ideal water levels for the upcoming world championships. While the tricks are easier at lower flows, the resounding smack of a hull smashing on the river bottom makes everyone within earshot shudder. Higher flows prove problematic as well. Eight days before the kickoff the 2019 ICF World Championships, the feature is set and athletes are chomping at the bit to finalize their competition rides.
Except, training time in the feature is incredibly scarce due to an abridged release schedule of a dam upstream. The water arrives at the feature around 9:30 in the morning, and athletes scramble to squeeze in a few rides before it closes an hour later for designated team training. The rest of the daily water allotment is divided into equal intervals where countries have a designated block to use as they deem fit, and after which the river recedes back to it’s dormant flow in the early evening. This all equates to less than approximately ten training rides per person for the most dedicated and persistent paddlers, and has in essence cranked up the heat in an already intense environment.
Some athletes are taking the lack of time to fully prepare in stride, optimistic and smiling as they wait in an eternal lineup in the eddy with hopes of one more chance to practice their competition ride. Others are battered and frustrated, hanging by an emotional thread as they struggle to cope with the complexities of this dynamic feature. It’s an inherently difficult situation that is bringing out both the best and the worst in the competitors and has created an interesting commingling of cultures, ambitions, abilities, ages and personalities that have intersected here in Sort, and everyone here is anxious with anticipation for what is to come. The event kicks off tomorrow with the squirt boating competition upstream followed by opening ceremonies. Ready or not, the World Championships are here…it’s go time.