Golden Child

Dane Jackson wins three golds (and a bronze) at freestyle kayak worlds

Plattling, Germany – The 2011 International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championships could be called Dane’s party, as U.S. 17-year-old paddler Dane Jackson was not only the first and only person to ever compete in all four freestyle disciplines, but also took top honors in three of the four. The Tennessee teen also won bronze in the other. Jackson’s wins included gold medals in Squirt, Canoe (C-1) and Kayak (K-1) classes and a bronze in Open Canoe (OC-1). Claire O’Hara also cashed in across disciplines with wins in both the Squirt and Women’s K-1 divisions, while fellow British paddler James “Pringle” Bebbington took home the coveted Men’s K-1 title.

Asked after his final competition if he was tired, Jackson said he was feeling pretty full of energy and was happy with his performance. “I felt pretty consistent in K-1 and was fired up about the high scores in C-1 and definitely didn’t expect such a high score in squirt,” Jackson said. Though not an official part of the ICF-sanctioned event, Jackson also won the standup paddle downriver race held here yesterday.

Jackson’s father, four-time world freestyle kayak champion Eric “E.J.” Jackson, said Dane’s results here this week are a testament to his desire to “paddle anything, anytime.”

“Dane has a better understanding of how a boat moves on water—any boat on any water,” said U.S. teammate Clay Wright, who’s known Dane his entire life. “But until now he hasn’t cared about scoring points but now that he’s put his mind to it, he’s going to be tough to beat.”

Other headline news included the success of the British and Spanish teams. Brits O’Hara and Bebbington accounted for three more of the event’s gold medals. O’Hara successfully defended her Squirt title before going on to upset defending Women’s K-1 champ Emily Jackson (USA) for a second gold medal. Bebbington prevailed in Men’s K-1 against finalists that included defending champ Nick Troutman (CAN), 2007 silver medalist Peter Csonka (SVK) and 2009 bronze medalist Stephen Wright. Team GBRs Jamie Austen earned the team a silver medal in Squirt and bronze medals were brought home by juniors Gabbie Bates and James Benns.

Spain celebrated gold and silver in the OC-1 division from Adria Bosch and Odei Areta respectively. Junior Joaquim Fontane added silver to the medal count while Aitor Goikoetxea added a bronze in the C-1 class.

The three countries—the U.S., Spain and Great Britain—took home 17 of 24 medals, including all the golds. In all, some 225 athletes from nearly 30 countries competed in the championships. Since freestyle kayaking is not yet an Olympic discipline, World Championships are the loftiest stage on which freestyle kayakers compete. The next worlds take place in 2013 at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, N.C.

Other highlights from Saturday’s finals:

Women’s Squirt

Claire O’Hara (GBR) rebuffed any thoughts of an attempt on her Squirt world title in a decisive win Saturday with a first-round ride of 946 held that proved to be too huge a lead for anyone to catch. Providing a massive cushion in front of silver medalist Motoko Ishada (JPN) with 580 points. Devon Barker (USA) won bronze with a clutch third ride that scored 356.

O’Hara also seeded second heading into Women’s K-1 finals, credited her team of volunteer coaches with her commanding win today. O’Hara’s training team includes two coaches, a team of three on video analysis, a physio team, personal trainer and Team Great Britain’s strength and conditioning trainer.

“I’m so lucky to have such support, it’s made a massive difference,” the 29-year-old said. The biggest difference in the past few years in freestyle is that it “used to be you just had to be a boater, now you have to be an athlete,” O’Hara said.

Men’s Squirt

Dane Jackson earned his first gold medal of these championships with a 1,293-point second ride that surprised even himself and was too tough for top seed Jamie Austen (GBR) to overcome. With the pressure on for his last ride, Austen improved from 1,103 on his first ride to 1,173 but fell short of gold. Toru Ishihara, who hails from squirt powerhouse Japan, finished with a 903-point bronze medal ride and his country’s only medal.

OC-1

Team Spain notched its first medals of these games in the Open Canoe class with gold and silver. Fourth-seeded Adria Bosch, appearing in his second worlds, scored 131 points in his final gold medal-winning ride to top countryman Odei Areta’s 108-point silver medal ride. Areta had been tied with Dane Jackson at 103 points but on his last ride got just enough points to avoid a tiebreaker. Jackson’s bronze in this class follows up on the gold he got in squirt.

Junior Women

Fifteen-year-old Lauren Burress (USA) had the best ride of her first world championships when she needed it most. Youngest of the junior women’s finalists, Burress’s third ride that included a big-scoring loop and a space godzilla scored 196 that were good for gold. Joining her on the podium were silver medalist Courtney Kerin (NZL) whose best ride was 166 and Gabby Bates (GBR) with 110 points for bronze. Burress attributed her success here to mentally treating worlds like the other competitions she’s been in since she first started kayaking when she was 9. So far this season on the U.S. circuit, Burress has won all the junior women’s events she entered and finished in fourth place in the women’s division of Teva Mountain Games. The teen also credited the support of her family and her coach, Team USA alternate Jud Keiser.

C-1

Dane Jackson scored his second gold medal of these championships in the Canoe class with a score of 686. Jackson’s flurry of high-scoring moves on his second ride included a McNasty, back-loop, felix, space godzilla and a splitwheel link to a cartwheel the only combo thrown by any of the C-1 competitors. With stands full of wildly cheering German fans, Philip Hitzigrath earned silver, Germany’s only medal of these championships with a 640 point ride just seven points ahead of bronze medalist Aitor Goikoetxea (ESP) with 633 points.

Junior Men

Dane Jackson proved why he was the heavy favorite to win this class. Consistently scoring the highest score of all but the final round—juniors or men—Jackson scored a 1020 point ride to earn his third gold medal and fourth trip to the podium of these championships. Spain’s Joaquim Fontane had to put everything on the line after his first two shaky rides scored only 313 and 196, well below what he’d been scoring leading up to the last day of competition. Fontane looked focused and determined as he entered the hole on his third and final ride with and put up a 773-point ride to earn a silver medal. Great Britain’s Bren Orton finished close on Fontane’s heels with a 733-point ride good for a bronze medal.

Women

With one gold medal already firmly in hand from the morning’s squirt finals, O’Hara changed boats and mental gears for the Women’s K-1 finals. O’Hara had her work cut out for as defending champion Emily Jackson (USA) had been throwing consistently high-scoring rides earlier in the week that sent the message that she was intent on keeping her crown. O’Hara’s second and winning ride of 663 was one that she’d been training and performing before the competition began. “It just felt right from the first move and everything just flowed after that,” O’Hara said, beaming. Looking ahead to defending her title in 2013, O’Hara said she’d be working on more links and combos moves to close the gap on the difference in performance between men and women. “The women’s field has really come a long way toward that this year and I’m just so excited to be part of it,” she said. Jackson, who enjoyed much stronger rides earlier in the competition, settled for silver with 583 points while her training partner and 2007 world champ Ruth Gordon Ebens (CAN) took bronze with 450 points.

Men

After nearly being eliminated in semis, and a lackluster first ride in finals, James “Pringle” Bebbington (GBR) put together the high-flying, high-scoring rides he needed to win when it counted most. The 23-year-old video boater who spends winters in Uganda really hadn’t thought about competing until three years ago. Bebbington explained the work he put into his mental game over the past year might have worked too well in the earlier rounds where he was so calm that he struggled to find his stride. For the finals, he decided he needed to pump himself up and in so doing posted his highest single-ride score of 1,020 on his second ride. On his third ride, Pringle’s favorite routine consisting of an entry move, McNasty’s both ways, phonix monkeys both ways, loops, space godzilla, and a lunar orbit bested his score to 1,053, averting a tie with Peter Csonka (SVK). Csonka, whose powerful paddling dominated quarterfinals and semis, settled for silver with 1,020. Finishing in third, as he had in 2009, was Team USA’s Stephen Wright with a 940-point ride.

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