As competition begins today in Plattling, Germany, at the International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championships, 225 athletes from 30 nations will be vying for world titles. The competition, which has been held every two years since 1991, has grown as three new countries – Slovenia, India and Argentina –will be represented at this year’s events on the Isar River through this Lower Bavaria town of around 13,000. One of those athletes packing her best tricks into a frenzied, yet calculated 45-second ride for the judges is U.S. women’s team kayaker Haley Mills. The 25-year-old Elizabethtown, Ky., native is far from her Gauley River and Buena Vista, Colo., playpark comfort zones, but likes her chances. We caught up with the 2010 national points series champion right before the start of yesterday’s opening ceremonies.

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CANOE & KAYAK: What's the scene like in Plattling?
HALEY MILLS: The scene in Plattling is great. Its a very laid back German town that has been invaded by a mass of kayakers. The town itself is quite small and has a small, but good array of restaurants, shops, and bars. The freestyle feature is about a 10 minute walk from downtown and is mostly where all the kayakers have been hanging out most of their days training, camping, and hanging out.

How much Paulaner and weinerschnitzel have you consumed in the last 24 hours? Honestly I have not had a beer yet and the weinerschnitzels scare me a little bit. I have had mostly good experiences eating out, but I have been cooking a lot of my own food up until now. I have been trying to keep my kayaking budget under wraps.

Describe the feature. What’s the most challenging aspect? The feature is a very wide, river-wide weir. The river-left section, which is where the competition will be held, is a combination of a hole and a wave. At lower levels it takes more of a flushy hole shape. As the water comes up, it becomes a great retentive hole where all the tricks you can think of are possible. As the level gets higher, it becomes more and more wave-like, and both wave and hole tricks have been going. The most challenging aspect of this feature is the fluctuation in water levels. The feature is located about a half-mile below a hydroelectric dam and the water levels change depending on a variety of reasons. Just when you think you have figured out all of your tricks during a practice session, the water level will change. It’s always an aspect with whitewater kayaking, but can be a tough one when preparing for a competition. Luckily, myself and most of the U.S. team has been able to see the feature at a variety of different water levels.

What do you think about your chances, and also, the women's team? Overall, I think my chances as well as the U.S. team’s chances are very good. Everyone has been training very hard all year to be here and looks very good on the feature. Of course, there is major competition from all over the globe, but I think that it shows how hard we have been training and pushing the sport.

Who's been throwing the biggest tricks? There are literally too many to name. I will say that people have been going absolutely huge on the feature here. Especially those that have been training here since the Winter.

What's the breakdown of composite and plastic playboats? And what are you using? At first it was looking about 50-50, but as the competition is getting nearer, I think it’s about 70-30 with the 70 percent being plastic. I have been watching a large number of people switching back and forth between boats depending on the level, but most have made there mind up at this point in the game. I’m using a plastic boat. Overall it makes more sense for me here, but hopefully in the future, it will be easier for me to get a composite boat in my size. It seems that it’s almost becoming the new standard for Europeans to have and compete in composite boats. Hopefully the U.S. will catch on soon.

So this is your first worlds? Yes it is. I have been seriously competing for about three years now and last summer was my first team trials. I am thrilled that the Nantahala Gorge, N.C. will be the site of the 2013 worlds.

What was your training going into this? My paddling season never ended after team trials last summer. I finished up the summer training in Salida, Colo., and then headed headed east to continue the momentum. After a few months at the Gauley having too much fun, I wintered in Chattanooga, Tenn., where I was able to playboat at least three to four times a week. Between Rock Island, Tenn., and the Ocoee flume being broken, it was a good playboating season around Tennessee. As soon as things warmed up in the Southeast, I hit the road and started the Freestyle Event circuit which brought me to Colorado before coming to Germany. It was a busy year of training, but a great one. Hopefully I can pull it off again this winter.

Any trick, or combo (or point total) that you're gunning for? Coming into prelims, I am not looking for anything crazy, but wanting to get all of my loop, cartwheel, and helix tricks down first before I think about hitting McNasties or anything else. I am looking for consistent and solid scoring rides to move on.

What's the plan after worlds? The first stop will be Salida, Colo., for a few different odd jobs and of course, more paddling. Another fall, winter, and spring in the Southeast is what I am shooting for, but who knows where life will take me.


Jackson Siblings Top Women's, C-1 Prelims at ICF Freestyle Kayak Worlds

Plattling, Germany – Brother and sister Dane and Emily Jackson came out on top their respective classes in preliminary rounds at the opening day of International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championships here today.

Emily Jackson, the defending women's champ put together an impressive routine with lots of high-scoring moves to tally 1043 points, more than 400 points ahead of second place Ebens (CAN), Jackson's friend and training partner. Claire O'Hara (GBR) came in third with 563 points. O'Hara had a big day as she also was the top scorer, male or female, in the squirt prelims.

Jackson said she was pleased with her rides. "The water level was pretty similar to what we've been practicing on for the past two days so it was just a matter of executing the routine I've been practicing and not letting my head get in the way."

Twenty of the 45 women advance to quarterfinals scheduled tomorrow afternoon.

In C1, Jackson's little brother, Dane, had a bit closer call on his way to finishing on top his division. German C1 Champion Philipp Hitzigrath's first ride scored higher than either of Jackson's two rides but the American's combined score after two rides was higher, 1293 points, to Hitzigrath's 1140. Rounding out the top three spots was veteran C1 competitor Igor Juanikorena of Spain.

Jackson said he would have to focus on throwing his moves a little more quickly in order to keep ahead of Hitzigrath in future rounds. A total of ten men advance to the next and semifinal round.

O'Hara Scores Top Ride in ICF Freestyle Kayak World Squirt Prelims

Plattling, Germany – The day has finally arrived when a woman has topped a man's score in whitewater paddling. Claire O'Hara (GBR) scored 1950 in the women's squirt class at the International Canoe Federation Freestyle Kayak World Championship prelims held here today. The top score in the men's division was Jamie Austen, also of Great Britain, with 1766, nearly 200 points less than O'Hara.

O'Hara, the defending women's world squirt champ, was understandably pleased with the day's results which included finishing in third place in the women's kayak division (K1W), behind reigning World Champ Emily Jackson and 2007 World Champ Ruth Gordon Ebens. "I'm thrilled," O'Hara said noting she still has to focus on winning the next rounds in both divisions.

Advancing with O'Hara to the final round is Motoko Ishida (JPN), Islay Crosbie (GBR), Devon Barker (USA) and Lou Turner (GBR).

US men made big inroads to the traditional British stronghold on squirt. Three of the top five finalists are American including Colin Kemp, Jeremy Laucks and Dane Jackson, competing in the second of four events for which he's qualified here at these Worlds. Joining Austen and the Americans in the men's final is Austen's teammate Seth Ashworth (GBR).