Above: Michal Smolen on course.
Photos and text by Andy Gutteridge
LONDON – The fifth and final day of the 2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships has come to a close at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, with Team USA putting the world on notice as the Olympics approach.
Twenty-two-year-old Michal Smolen (USA) picked up a bronze medal over the weekend by putting together one of the strongest performances of his young career. After qualifying seventh in the semifinal, Smolen knew he had to improve his time on his final run to secure a podium spot. While many of the sport’s most decorated athletes struggled with the difficult course design, Smolen hardly seemed to be bothered. Smolen, who was last year's U23 World Champion, finished with a time of 92.01, taking third place in the K1M class.
"I found the course was even harder than it looked here at the Olympic Games, and today we saw a lot of people with amazing runs get to the bottom and fall apart,” Smolen said. “For me to hold it together showed, to me, great improvements in my strategy, so it's good to come out with a medal."
Joining Smolen on the podium was silver-medalist Mateusz Polaczyk (POL) and the Czech Republic’s Jiri Prskavec, a double European senior champion, who picked up the gold with a time of 88.99.
Prskavec’s finish rounded off a great weekend for his country following Katerina Kudejovas success in the K1W final on Saturday. After the run Kudejova said, “It's a difficult course but this is how I like them, so I was quite happy when I saw it. I was confident going into the final. I was a bit cautious of Gate 5, but I did not make any mistakes; it was perfect.”
One noticeable omission from the K1M final was reigning World Champion, Boris Neveu (FRA) who was hoping to join Siegbert Horn (GDR), Eberhard Glaser (GDR) and American Scott Shipley in third place on the all-time medal list. The Frenchman, who needed his second run to qualify from the heats after incurring a 50-second penalty in heat one, just missed out on the final after finishing in eleventh place.
In the C1 Men’s competition, Casey Eichfeld (USA) had a brilliant performance, finishing fourth in his first-ever World Championship final. Recording the fastest times through the first splits, Eichfeld kept his cool after a small time error on the difficult 17-18 gate combination. After his nice recovery, Eichfeld incurred a two-second penalty on one of the final gates. In the end, the penalty proved to be quite costly as Eichfeld missed the podium by 0.21 seconds. Hometown favorite David Florence (GBR) regained the World Champion title with Benjamin Savsek (SLO) finishing second and Ryan Westley (GBR) taking third.
— Casey Eichfeld (@kckanu) September 20, 2015
Florence paid tribute to the crowd who cheered him to glory. "The crowd was incredible, there was an absolute buzz,” he said. "I knew my teammate [Ryan Westley] was in the lead and the rest of the course just went really well, and it was enough to win by a very small margin, enough to become World Champion again."
Australian phenom, Jessica Fox, maintained her winning ways with her third successive C1W World title with a margin of nearly five seconds over her nearest rival Katerina Hoskova (CZE) who also finished second to Fox at the 2015 World Cup series seasons standings.
Hoskova commented, “This is my second medal, my first one was four years ago, so now to get the second place so it's good to get a medal again. Now I can say that the season was the best for four years.”
Nuria Vilarrubla, who had beaten Fox at the beginning of the season to take the U23 world title, came away with the bronze medal.
With today’s results, the U.S. has now qualified Olympic quota spots in both the C1 Men and K1 Men’s categories.
Smolen and Eichfeld were the only American paddlers to advance to the finals.
1) J. PRSKAVEC CZE 88.99 0
2) M. POLACZYK POL 89.43 + 0.44
3) M. SMOLEN USA 92.01 + 3.02
1) D. FLORENCE GBR 94.32 0
2) B. SAVSEK SLO 94.36 +0.04
3) R.WESTLEY GBR 96.33 +2.01
1) J.FOX AUS 113.51 0
2) K. HOSKOVA CZE 118.42 + 4.91
3) N. VILARRUBLA ESP 121.55 +8.04
Gold – Czech Republic
Silver – Slovakia
Bronze – Great Britain
Gold – Australia
Silver – Czech Republic
Bronze - Austria
Gold – Slovakia
Silver – Germany
Bronze – Slovenia