The world's top whitewater racers gathered in the small mountain village of Ötz, Austria, this weekend to compete for the title of Extreme Kayak World Champion. Now in its ninth year, the 2016 Sickline drew 175 racers from 29 countries. The race takes place on the Ötztal River's steep and technical Wellerbrücke Rapids where racers must pass a qualifier, two elimination rounds, and a "super final."
Low water levels this year made the results even closer than usual as the Wellerbücke's most turbulent hydraulics became more tame and predictable with many paddlers nailing the course's most challenging moves.
With the times closer than ever, even the tiniest of errors meant the difference between a spot in the finals and an elimination. Many high-profile paddlers missed their chance at the podium as they failed to pass through the highly competitive semi- and quarter-finals.
After a race of dramatic twists and unexpected eliminations, Sandra Hyslop (GBR) and Aniol Serrasolses (ESP) emerged as the 2016 World Champions with times of 1:08.82 and 1:01.70, respectively.
Watch POV footage of Hyslop's winning run:
Last year's men's champ, Gerd Serrasolses (ESP) finished in fourth place after taking most of the summer off from paddling to recover from a rib injury. The elder of two brothers in the competition, Gerd barely missed the podium despite his time of 1:00.58 in the semi-finals, the fastest run of the day. At Sickline, every run counts and Gerd's younger brother Aniol put down the fastest run when it counted in the finals. Regardless, it is surely a day for celebration in the Serrasolses household.
Watch POV footage of Serrasolses's winning run:
Last year's women's champ, Mariane Saether (NOK), finished in 9th place. Saether, who just gave birth to her first child a few weeks before the event, questioned the fairness of the Sickline rules on social media saying, "Ended up 9th in the Adidas Sickline World Championships – gotta do some more kayaking (and not be pregnant!) for next year! Only thing I wonder about… Top three men from last year were directly qualified into the semis today… but the same did not apply in the women´s class, not even for the winner."
Nouria Newman (FRA) and Martina Wegman (NED) rounded out the women's podium. Newman clocked the fastest women's run of the day in the semi-finals but, much like Gerd, could not hold on to her first place position in the finals as Hyslop kept up her consistently strong performance and clinched the victory.
Sam Sutton (NZL) and Dane Jackson (USA) stood beside Serrasolses on the men's podium.
The 2016 Adidas Sickline generated controversy and some criticism in the days leading up to the competition as event organizers and some competitors struggled to agree about equipment and safety regulations.
Commenters on social media expressed outrage that the LiquidLogic Braaap, among other boats, would not be allowed at this year's event. Others expressed frustration that the event organizers had instituted a minimum weight limit that would exclude the use of carbon/composite kayaks and a mandate that all kayaks in the race must be "mass produced" and commercially available. Some competitors and spectators worried that these regulations targeted specific racers and manufacturers. The discussion also turned to the idea that regulations on boat materials, shapes, and lengths might limit the extent to which designers can innovate in their future boat designs because they will be forced to produce boats that comply with regulations at races like the Sickline.
C&K contacted the race organizers for comment and reached Sickline's Media Director, Sonja Güldner-Hamel, who maintained that that controversial "Braaap ban" is a matter of safety and that the low-volume stern makes the boat less safe on a race course with many pin and sieve hazards. "For safety reasons we have to draw the line somewhere for all equipment," says Güldner-Hamel. "We did it for helmets and lifejackets and now we have to for kayaks. Our safety commission monitors the race each year and sits together annually to discuss if any of our equipment rules have to be amended for the sake of the competitors' safety."
"A lot of river runner designs are also fast and safe, however we have to draw the line somewhere and the LL Braaap is similar to a lot of other boats on the market which we do not want to have on the race course. We also don't want to be splitting hairs with which boats are in or out so it is easier for us to make a blanket recommendation, same as we have for the helmets and PFDs."
Beyond the questions of safety, race organizers on social media expressed a desire to create a level playing field for all racers by requiring creekboats and not allowing slalom-inspired kayaks like the Braaap or super lightweight boats constructed from carbon materials.
To address this controversy, the race organizers have decided to include two athlete representatives in the safety commission to provide a different perspective in future decisions.