Bratislava #4

Blown Away: Winds buffet Day 1 of the World Championships in Slovakia

By Jamie McEwan

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Was I nervous this morning? Nah. It was just everyday forgetfulness that made me fail to put the battery back into my camera. And if I was completely exhausted after the the first C-2 heat, well, blame jet lag. It had nothing to do with watching my son race in his first World Championships.

Italy's Colazingari and Gejdos were the first C-2 paddlers on course Wednesday, with the gate judge looking on. Photo: Keith Boynton

Jana Dukatova - note the angle of those poles. Photo: Keith Boynton

Father and son. Who's nervous? Photo: Keith Boynton

The wind sure made the flags look snappy. Photo: Keith Boynton

The official word. Please show me to the 3th Floor. Photo: Sarah Anderson

Although Slalom’s format has become more like that of other sports, Wednesday’s heats in C-2 and K-1W have the setup I knew and loved back in my racing days: best of two runs. But in the old days, the race would then have been over after those two runs; whereas now the heats qualify the competitors into a one-run semifinal, which in turn qualifies half the semifinalists into the one-run final.

4:26 p.m. Wednesday
At the moment, I’m sitting in the media box—it’s one of those big steel containers you can stack, and I’m on the second floor—waiting for the second runs to begin. According to the schedule, they should be over already. But the race has been delayed because of wind.

The wind started to pick up during the end of the C-2′s, and blew during the entire Women’s K-1 class. It was impressive to see the top women paddlers handle the poles’ random 2-to-3 foot swings.

The world’s top C-2 and hometown favorites—the Hochschorners—had more trouble, and sit for the moment in 14th place. Only the top 20 (of 44) move on to the semifinals in C-2, and it is not certain the Hochschorners’ first run result will make the cut. They did a good job, though, of putting on the brakes in gate 17, seeming to defy physics by stopping in the middle of the current to wait for the pole to stop swinging.

So far, the U.S. team members are on the outside looking in. The best placing after first runs is the C-2 team of Benn Fraker and Isaac Levinson, sitting 21st, just one place out of qualifying for the semifinals. And my son Devin? Well, he and partner Casey Eichfeld started out strong, but got off line near the bottom of the course and had to pull out of the current and paddle back up to make a hard offset. Too costly. They are sitting 39th.

5:05 p.m.
I left the media room about ten minutes ago to watch second runs, only to discover that second runs had just been cancelled due to wind. Not only that, but the first run results had been voided; the racers would start again with a clean slate on another day. What day? That’s to be determined.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a race that was cancelled on race day. You just never know. And after all, it is an outdoor sport.

9:44 p.m.
End of a long strange day. It was a relieved C-2 team of Eichfeld and McEwan that we joined for dinner this evening. At the same time, I think they were a bit disoriented by the day’s craziness. They had prepared for their second run only to have it postponed; prepared again only to have it cancelled.

On deck for Thursday: Men’s Kayak, and Men’s and Women’s C-1. May it be calm.

Jamie McEwan raced on numerous U.S. Slalom teams between 1971 and 2001, collecting one Olympic medal, one World Championship medal, and one World Cup Championship along the way. Now the veteran competitor and expedition paddler is exploring the unfamiliar role of spectator, sharing his insights as the world’s best slalom paddlers compete for the sport’s most significant prize. Among them is Jamie’s son, Devin, racing in the USA C-2 with Casey Eichfeld.

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