Last weekend, western Maryland wrapped up the international slalom racing season with the final event of the "Canoe Slalom World Series" at Adventure Sports International, the world's only mountaintop artificial whitewater slalom course
The World Series is a new five-race whitewater slalom series with the goal of expanding the number of high-quality international races beyond the traditional three-race World Cup. Prize money and a new Nissan for the athlete who wins the most races encouraged top European athletes to make the trip.
Though the number of world-class slalom events in the United States has dropped since the post-911 cancellation of the 2001 World Championships on the Ocoee, the sport is now surging in North America. The turnaround is owing to the new artificial whitewater courses in the eastern United States eager to promote their product, together with the new corporate-backed World Series. Now up-and-coming American paddlers finally have a chance to gain valuable experience and compete at home against some of the world's best slalom racers.
American athletes raced against stars such as 2004 Olympic Champion in men's kayak Benoit Peschier of France, who is still licking his wounds after failing to qualify for Beijing. Other athletes such as Scott Parsons, top U.S. men's kayak and serious medal contender in Beijing, were searching for redemption here after being ousted in the qualifying rounds of the Olympics.
In the weekend competition, Alexander Slafkovsky and the Skantar brothers won men's C-1 and C-2, respectively. They are from Slovakia, the tiny eastern European country which took home three of four Olympic golds in Beijing. Jessica Groeneveld of Canada topped the women's kayak field, and Hailey Thompson won in the newly created women's canoe division.
The grand prize went to 2008 Olympian Peter Kauzer of Slovenia, who easily prevailed in men's K-1. It was his third World Series win this season, making him the proud owner of a brand-new Nissan. No word yet on how he plans to get his new rig home to Slovenia.
Dana Chladek is a two-time Olympic medalist in kayak slalom, and coach at the Bethesda Center of Excellence in Maryland.