Photos courtesy Jens Klatt / Sickline 2015
What do you get when you bring together 175 of the world’s best whitewater kayakers for a Class V race in Austria? You get the most competitive extreme race on the planet, and you add an exclamation point on an already victory-packed year for Gerd Serrasolses. The 27-year-old Spainard dominated the event on the Wellebrücke rapids, capturing the world champion title and further cementing his position as a seemingly unstoppable racing machine. Serrasolses shared the podium with David Bain, the runner up from Great Britain while Sam Sutton of New Zealand, a triple Sickline World Champion, came away with a bronze medal this year. Mariann Saether from Norway conquered the women’s title, finishing ahead of Great Britain’s Jennifer Chrimes and Alona Buslaieva from the Ukraine.
Now in its eighth year, the intense competition of Sickline stems both from the difficulty of the race course and the number of world-class athletes who participate. The Class V rapids of the glacier-fed Ötztaler Ache River, though intimidating even to expert paddlers, may not make for the world’s most extreme race venue compared to the North Fork of the Payette, the Little White Salmon, or the Whitewater Grand Prix. But Sickline is one of a kind in its ability to draw a large international field of paddlers, making it the world’s most competitive whitewater race. Sickline 2015 hosted the most competitors ever–175 athletes from 30 different countries raced in the qualifying rounds–and even elite paddlers like Pat Keller, Nick Troutman, and Isaac Levinson were eliminated in this year’s quarter finals. For the first time in the history of the race, a female world champion title was awarded with a record number of 25 participating women.
This year the field was stacked with talent and the top five paddlers in the men’s division were separated by just 2.05 seconds in the super final.
Gerd Serrasolses (C&K Male Paddler of the year) was our pick to win the event from the get go. He put in the fastest runs in the qualification, the quarter and semi final and his victory was long overdue as he has proven multiple times that he has the skill and the determination to win this prestigious race. Last year Serrasolses was also favored to win, but he slipped up in the decisive final run. This year he saved his best performance for last, clocking 55.34 seconds, the fastest race time of the day and a new course record.
“I guess experience pays off,” Serrasolses said. “I knew I could do it. I had two good runs this morning, I was feeling good and I was fired up and ready to go. Now I am really stoked. 2015 has been my greatest season ever. I’ve done really well in some races, I’ve been all over the world on expeditions with my brother, all in all it has been an amazing year and to finish off the season like this is a gift.”
David Bain, the 22-year old runner up who reached the final for the third year in a row, was over the moon after putting down the second fastest run in the final and the second-fastest run of the day (56.19) “I am still realizing that this actually finally happened,” Bain said. He sat in the leading position in the hot tub until Gerd Serrasolses nailed the sickest line of the day. “I wouldn’t say I am disappointed. It leaves me room for improvement for the following years. I’d say this is my first result so it gives me something to work on and it’s great to see another team paddler from pyranha make the final and win. It’s just brilliant having first and second place up there. The brilliant thing about Sickline and kayaking in general is that everyone cheers for everybody, everyone knows everybody and there really is a good sense of community in the sport.”
Triple Extreme Kayak World Champion Sam Sutton, who also put in a commanding final run (56.19), was relieved to be back on the podium after two years. “On my last run I actually felt a bit more like the ‘old’ Sam Sutton”, he said. “I am so stoked for Gerd. Of course I would have been happy to win, but I would have felt like I took the title away from the more deserving person. Gerd is by far the best kayaker on the planet at the moment, he is so consistent and you could see it out there, he just crushed every single round, so I am happy for him, he is such a good dude.”
After the “head-to-head” semi final round, the five fastest women battled it out for world championship honors on the Wellerbrücke rapids. 35-year old powerhouse Mariann Saether, who competed in the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship for the first time, traded in her seasonal job as a highly tipped Oktoberfest waitress for a gold medal. She secured her title with a winning time of 1:03.49.
Many racers in the men’s and women’s categories struggle to keep their speed through the intimidating “Champions Killer” hole near the end of the 280-meter race course. “I had a bit of a problem with Champions Killer in all my race runs. During training it went really well, but in the race I struggled,” Saether said after her victory. “Also in my final run I had a very good line all the way down up until Champions Killer and I felt a bit stalled, but I could get back in line and I was really stoked when I saw my time. It feels amazing.”
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