By Dave Costello
How do you make one of the most competitive Class V kayak races attended by the world's best paddlers even more interesting? Introduce a new river-wide hole into the middle of the course.
"The rumors [are] true," says four-time freestyle world champion Eric Jackson, commenting on the famous Class V stretch of Austria's "Wellerbrücke" rapids on the Ötztal Valley's Ötztaler Ache River, site of this weekend's fifth annual Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship. "We heard that the middle section of the course changed during floods from last year, and there is a very beefy hole in it now…the middle section is stacked any way you look at it."
So set the alarm clock, put on a pot of coffee, and prepare yourself for some serious paddling (and some potentially serious beatdowns) this Saturday. (Click HERE to watch the top 15 paddlers duke it out live at 8 a.m. EST/ 7 a.m. CST/ 6 a.m. GMT/ 5 a.m. PST)
On Friday, Oct. 5, 150 paddlers from 30 different countries will converge on the land of Mozart and Apfelstrudel to try and best New Zealand's Sam Sutton, who secured his second consecutive Sickline Championship title last year by undercutting the course record he had set in 2010 by three seconds.
The competition will begin with a qualification round on the Class III-IV lower section of the Wellerbrücke. The top 48 paddlers will then advance to the next round held on the upper Class V section on Saturday. Last year's top three paddlers—two-time champ Sam Sutton (NZL), Olympic slalom paddler Mike Dawson (NZL), and Paul Böckelmann (GER)—are automatically qualified.
To say that the Sickline Championship hosts a competitive field would be a laughable understatement. Last year, the second to eighth place finishers all clocked within one second of each other on the roughly one minute-long course (58.00-58.96). One botched boof can be the difference between first place and 15th. To up the stakes even more, this year’s championship serves as Stage 5 in the six-event Association of Whitewater Professionals’ Whitewater World Series. U.S. paddler Evan Garcia hangs on to a slim overall lead heading into the last European event before the AWP Series moves back to North America for the Nov. 3 Green Race finale. [Click HERE to watch the top racers discuss the Series at the last, Stage 4 event in the Czech Republic.]
Sutton is certainly a favorite to win again this year, but the list of serious contenders is long: Vavrinec Hradilek (CZE) took home the K-1 slalom silver medal from the London 2012 Olympics; Mike Dawson (NZL), paddled for the Kiwis in this summer’s Games, finished second behind Sutton at the 2011 Sickline Championships, and won this year's Teva Mountain Games Homestake Creek Race; Michele Ramazza (ITA) finished second at the 2010 Championships and third in 2008. America's top entrants, Dane Jackson and Isaac Levinson, also have impressive resumes: Jackson won the 2011 Whitewater Grand Prix and took first at the Freestyle World Championships three times; Levinson won the 2011 Green Race as well as C&K's 2012 Male Paddler of the Year Award. And that's just to name a few.
Check out the video of Sam Sutton’s winning run at the 2011 Sickline Championship below, and be sure to tune into CanoeKayak.com for final results and to watch the 2012 Championships live at 8 a.m. EST/ 7 a.m. CST/ 6 a.m. GMT/ 5 a.m. PST.