OETZ, AUSTRIA – Higher flows on the infamous Wellerbrücke rapids in Ötztal, Austria set the stage for the exciting 10th edition of the Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championships. With a stacked field of 175 competitors from 33 nations featuring former Sickline champions, Olympic slalom kayakers, freestyle world champions, and top expedition paddlers, to say that the competition for this year's title was fierce would be a tremendous understatement. The elite racers set new course records — and then promptly smashed them. The course knocked out favorites early and a Kiwi walked away with his fourth title.
In the preliminary knock-out rounds alone, there were some prominent upsets: Gerd Serrasolses (ESP), Thilo Schmitt (GER), Fabian Dörfler (GER), Honza Lasko (CZE) and Vavrinec Hradilek (CZE) were all unable to advance while Jamie Sutton (NZL), Mathieu Dumoulin (FRA) and Mikel Sarasola (ESP) reached the men’s Top 16 final with a ‘lucky loser’ qualification ticket.
“I was having a decent run and I thought I was going to have a good [line through] ‘Champions Killer,’ but unfortunately as I hit the boil, I lost balance and I flipped so I had to roll and that cost me a lot of time, so I'm out for today,” Gerd Serrasolses said after his quarterfinal heat.
Olympic silver medalist and 2013 Canoe Slalom World Champion Vavra Hradilek had a blistering-fast run in the quarterfinal, where he set a new course record of 54.41 seconds. However, Hradilek's record was short-lived as Dane Jackson blazed down the course in his semifinal run, posting a time of 53.80 seconds. Sadly, Hradilek’s run for the championship belt would come to an end after Sven Lammler bested him in the semifinal.
“The run wasn't good from the beginning,” Hradilek said. “Then I tried to focus on the lines and the crux moves: TNT and Champions Killer, both didn't go really well, but still, you know, I was happy to be there with Sven. Sven deserves the final as well. I think I missed out the final by a really close margin, but that's fine – I've been kayaking here the whole week so I'm happy. It's just an awesome section we race on and it's a beautiful river. A lot of good people participate and we all really share the vibe – it's just a good vibe so no matter if you lose or win, you always come out with a smile: maybe with a bit of frustration, but that always washes away at the after-party.”
The women's semifinal saw Norway’s Mariann Saether flip in the TNT cataract, so the run of the 2015 World Champion unraveled and she lost her heat against Great Britain’s Jennifer Chrimes.
“We're whitewater kayakers and we know this can happen once in a while,” Saether said. “You just make a slight mistake and then the consequence is pretty big. For me, I made a slight mistake in a place I usually don’t have any problems and it cost me 20-25 seconds. At least, I'm proud of not swimming, and obviously I knew that the race was over at that point, but I was trying to just get out of the sticky place I was in and then I nailed my lines afterwards, which I'm also a little bit proud of. Of course, it's very disappointing when that happens in a competition.”
Newman Claims Her First Extreme World Champion Title
The women's World Championship final pitted Chrimes, the 2015 Adidas Sickline Silver medalist, against the 2016 silver and bronze medalist Nouria Newman (FRA) and Martina Wegman (NED), along with Anne Hübner (GER) and Marieke Vogt (AUT). Newman set the bar quite high in the semifinal with a new female course record of 1:00.57, making her the favorite coming into the final.
Already known as one of the most talented whitewater athletes on the planet, Newman was the last in the start order. From the start, Newman displayed the type of speed that had earned her a silver medal at the 2013 Canoe Slalom World Championships. The 26-year-old nailed a perfect line through the TNT cataract and Minus 1, where many of her fellow competitors had lost significant time. Moving toward the aptly named “Champions Killer” drop about the finish, she got pushed a little bit too far right, slightly hitting a rock and costing herself some time. Nevertheless, her result was never in question as she crossed the finish line with a time of 1:01.75, 2.99 seconds faster than second-place finisher Wegman and 7.66 seconds faster than Chrimes who came in third.
“It feels great to become World Champion!” said Newman. “It was frustrating last year to have good runs all the way through to the finals and then mess up my final run. To be able to pull it together today, just makes me really happy. And I hope I can come back next year and have more clean runs and try to be even faster. It's a big race, everyone is fast – so to just manage to have a good run in the final and take the win is just a great feeling, I'm really happy – it was hard.”
Wegman, who won her first silver medal at the championship, revealed later that she didn't expect to do so well this year.
“I'm super happy with second place, I was way more scared this year than in previous years. I just had an awesome slalom season, but haven't been in a plastic boat much, so I was a bit shaky at the start. I'm super stoked to come out in second place. I think Nouria Newman really deserves the Adidas Sickline World Champion title.”
Third-placed Chrimes could barely believe what she just had done. "I'm so stoked, I didn't even think I would make it through the last qualifier,” she said. “I've not been paddling all summer as I've been injured, so I'm pretty sore right now. To make it to the final was a huge achievement for me – and to make it onto the podium seemed impossible.”
Sam Sutton Completes a Sickline "Grand Slam"
Next, 16 of the world's best male kayakers from 10 different countries lined up for the final. After some great performances in the previous two rounds, it was 31-year-old Alexander Grimm of Germany, who snatched third place in 55.39 seconds, 0.36 seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher Dane Jackson. The 2008 Olympic Slalom Champion mastered all key sections without any visible mistakes. Being patient enough to set the crucial late boof stroke at "Champion's Killer,” Grimm got a great boost out of the drop and toward the finish line. He claimed third place and yet another Sickline podium after winning the event in 2009.
“I'm very happy to be back on the podium after 2009,” Grimm said. “It was a hard race. The guys nailed some sick lines today and it was an exciting final. I had a good run, too. I was able to improve in each round today. It couldn't have gone better.”
Last year's men’s Sickline Champion, Aniol Serrasolses of Spain, had a slightly disappointing semifinal run, but in the final the 26-year-old Catalan quickly returned to form. Flying through the TNT cataract and the Champions Killer Minus 1, Serrasolses showed why he is one of the most respected athletes on the scene. With tidy lines throughout his final run, Serrasolses made the challenging moves look easy. After crossing the finish line with a time of 55.17 seconds, it looked like Serrasolses had positioned himself well to retain the title. In the end, it only proved to be good enough for second place.
After losing out on his fourth belt in 2016 by one hundredth of a second, Kiwi Sam Sutton was looking for redemption. Coming out of the quarter- and semifinal with top-3 times, Sutton knew he had to deliver in the final to reclaim his crown.
“So, in my final run I had an awesome feeling at the start, I was like just go out and enjoy it, you never know if this is your last Sickline Sam,” Sutton said. “I was pretty stoked just to push off and carry on down. I made a couple of little mistakes at the start, and thought 'Oh no!' but then I managed to pull it together. I was a little bit out of control, but tried to keep the boat moving and then I was reasonably happy with my time.” Sutton was hoping to be one second faster, but the 54.89 he clocked at the finish line proved to be fast enough to claim the title, as neither Hannes Aigner nor Jackson, who started after him, had faster runs.
“It feels really surreal and I mean, it's always something that I have wanted to do, win another one – but it has taken bloody ages since my last one,” Sutton said. "I'm getting older and it seems harder and harder, because I find less and less time to go kayaking. I feel sorry for Dane because he was the fastest out there today, it was his race to lose, but I'll take his loss as my victory. And it's good to switch it around with Aniol. Last year he beat me by hardly anything and he's an incredible paddler. Alex stuffed it up at the start, those German muscles just marched and powered him down to the bottom – very, very impressive!”
With his fourth Extreme Kayak World Championship title in the books, the man from Rotorua, New Zealand will go down in the history books. His achievement will most likely not be repeated because the world's best kayakers agree that the Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship is the hardest race to win … unless your name is Sam Sutton.
Check out the winning Finals runs of women’s champ Nouria Newman, and men’s champ Sam Sutton
— Check our Newman’s recent look at slalom cross, the ICF’s entry into the world of extreme sport.