(Ed’s note: This post is one in a series covering the 2011 Canoe Slalom World Championships. See earlier dispatches from Slovakia HERE.)
By Jamie McEwan
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- France’s Denis Gargaud-Chanut and Fabien Lefevre, the silver medalists in Saturday’s C-2 event, made slalom history Sunday by medaling again in their two different singles classes. Lefevre claimed the Bronze Medal in Men’s Kayak, and--in the biggest surprise of these World Championships--Gargaud-Chanut is the 2011 World Champion in C-1 Men.
But I’m afraid that I’ve skipped straight to the punch line. Sunday morning’s C-1M and K-1M Semifinals were just as exciting a race, though harder to summarize. The biggest international news of the morning’s Semis was that reigning World Champion Tony Estanguet of France failed to qualify for the Finals. The biggest U.S. news was that all three U.S. athletes failed to make the final; also that the Men’s Kayaks did earn an Olympic start. That was a relief, as no one wanted to have to race off against the talented Canadians, in February’s Pan American Championships, for a Continental slot.
It was Scott Parsons who took the top U.S. Men’s Kayak placing, 15th, despite a two-second penalty--without which he would have placed seventh and gone on into the final. Brett Heyl was two-and-a-half seconds back from Parsons, in 19th.
Both U.S. Men’s Kayakers were disappointed in their race today, though they seemed to have no hesitation about taking on the coming year’s challenge. “I’ve got to figure out why I’m so slow,” said Heyl.
In Men’s C-1, Casey Eichfeld took two touches, enough to push him down to 19th place. A clean run would have placed him in the top 10. Penalties have bedeviled Eichfeld in the World Cup races this summer, too. “I know what I have to work on now,” said Eichfeld.
Gargaud-Chanut and Lefevre’s medal haul in two individual events was astonishing and unprecedented. I won’t go into the history that makes this so unique, but here’s a fun fact: The last person to switch sides on a World Championship-winning run was Rheinhold Kauder of West Germany, in 1971. (Yes, I was there.) As in yesterday’s C-2 run, Gargaud-Chanut changed sides at the top of the big drop in order to enter the eddy at gate 20 on his right.
Although the upstream was indeed difficult for any C-1 paddling on the left, there were other C-1 lefties in the Finals who I believe were faster there using the usual cross-bow. But perhaps the same sort of looseness that one needs to switch sides in a boiling eddy was an important factor on Sunday’s technical course.
Certainly Michel Martikan could have used some of that looseness. When the reigning World Champion Tony Estanguet of France failed to make the Finals, placing 13th in the Semis, the path seemed clear for the Slovakian favorite to take back his World Championship title; after all, the last time one or the other had not won the Worlds was 2005. Martikan had looked tight, placing 4th in the morning’s Semifinals, but that could be attributed to the “make it or go home” nature of Semis. I assumed he would relax and open up in the Finals.
Martikan opened up all right--but, failing to control his angle on his way to a humdrum downstream in an eddy, he had to paddle back up to make the gate. Martikan failing in a simple “dive” gate? I expected the sky to fall. He placed 7th, just behind Zhiqiang Teng of China. Rounding out the top three were Nico Bettge of Germany and Matej Benus of Slovakia.
The easy take on the Men’s Kayak class is to focus on the rivalry between the Italian Daniele Molmenti--reigning World Champion when the day began--and the Slovenian Peter Kauzer, World Champion from the year before. The dramatic contrast in their styles makes this all the more entertaining: Molmenti is the inheritor of the explosive, innovative style often associated with the French kayakers like Lefevre (World Champion in 2002 and 2003), and Kauzer has a flowing style that is his own smooth blend of strength and precision.
Kauzer did indeed come through today, winning his second World Championships by a little over one second. Molmenti looked stunning in places, but had enough small errors on the tough course to drop him to fourth. The relatively unknown Mateusz Polaczyk of Poland was the surprise silver medalist, with Lefevre taking third.
Pushed to later in the afternoon were the Semifinals, then the Finals of the non-Olympic class, the Women’s C-1 event. This relatively new event, just added to the Worlds program in 2010, was dominated last year by women kayakers paddling both kayak and C-1, but this year C-1 specialists have taken over. The event was won by Katerina Hoskova of the Czech Republic; a Chinese paddler, Cen Nanqin, won silver; and Katarina Mascova of Slovakia took bronze. The spread from first to third was less than two seconds. This class is developing fast.
And then the one-run team events, arguably the best spectator event of them all, with three boats from each team crossing paths in a complex weave as they negotiate the upstreams. Though the Europeans take the team events seriously, the U.S. has not been very focused on the team races since the twelve-year reign of its C-1 team, 1979-1991. This year’s C-2 Team Race saw France defeat the favorite Slovakians; Men’s Kayak was won by Germany (not a surprise); C-1 Women by Australia, despite the fact that they had no individual medalists; and the Women’s Kayak event by Slovakia.
When the racing was over, a sense of relief and relaxation seemed to come over even the most disappointed racers. I can hear the “Flower Ceremony” going on in the square outside my hotel as I write; celebratory horns are blowing; the party will soon begin. This seems the moment to close for the day. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s wrap-up.
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.