Inside the 2019 ICF Freestyle Worlds – #2 Opening Ceremony & Squirt Finals
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.
Today marks the kickoff of the 2019 ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championships, and squirt boating is first on the agenda. There are twelve women and twenty-one men, from nine countries competing for the title. The squirt feature lies about 5 km upstream from the freestyle arena, on the river Noguera Pallaresa near the town of Rialp, Spain. There is a sharp eddy line at the base of a rocky cliff followed by a crystal clear, emerald pool. The water is clear and cold and the scenery is spectacular.
As the competition heated up through the first cut to ten, and then to five in the preliminary rounds, the mercury skyrocketed as well, climbing to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) by mid-afternoon. Athletes crowded into pockets of shade along the riverbank and spectators took advantage of the breaks between rounds to take a quick dip in the river to cool off.
This year the ICF made a ruling that allows for two mystery moves per ride (up from one in years past), in an effort to reward athletes for downtime over surface tricks, and the new scoring delivered. The top athletes would initiate a spin at the top of the eddy and slowly disappear into the green abyss below as spectators scanned the emerald pool, counting the seconds in anticipation, wondering when and where the kayaks would emerge from the depths.
Rose Wall from the United States ended up taking the gold after a 22 second mystery move followed by a flurry of freestyle in the eddy below the seam. She arrived in Spain less than a week ago as a mystery move specialist with very limited freestyle experience. She has since been training daily and has developed a respectable repertoire of freestyle tricks that catapulted her straight to the top spot with a 1493 point ride, followed by silver medalist Hitomi Takaku from Japan with a score of 1080, and junior freestyle world champion Ottilie Robinson-Shaw from Great Britain with a 780 point ride.
As the men completed their first rides of finals, it became obvious that water levels were dropping rapidly, changing the feature dramatically over the course of the three rides. Legendary paddler and reigning world champion, Clay Wright from the United States, showcased his vast arsenal of expertise and experience and managed to anticipate how the changing water levels would impact the eddy line, managed to achieve significant mystery move downtime on each of this three rides, and ultimately brought home the gold with a 1500 point ride. British paddler, Alex Edwards, took second with 1067 points and Sam Wilson from Great Britain rounded out the podium with a 943 point ride.
Following the squirt competition, athletes returned to the quant village of Sort for the opening ceremonies that were marked by a parade of 234 athletes from 25 countries, welcome messages from the ICF and Mayor of Sort, and an incredible display of arial acrobatics by performers dangling from silk draperies. Tomorrow will be the final opportunity for athletes to practice for the upcoming freestyle events, and Monday will be preliminary rounds for open canoe and junior men.