The best paddlers will be taking part to this final stage of the series, such as Slovakian Peter Csonka or Japanese female paddler Hitomi Takaku, World K1 silver medalists, North American Dane Jackson, the current freestyle child prodigy and in the women’s category, worth mentioning are North American Rowan Stuart, and Catalan Nuria Fontaine who came second in the Junior Worlds.
In total, about 150 athletes are expected to compete on the Noguera Pallaresa river. For the first time, paddlers from Senegal, Turkey, Ukraine, Morocco, Thailand and the Fiji Islands, all part of the ICF Canoe Slalom Development Program will show their skills on the fierce and powerful water roller of Sort, undoubtedly the most difficult venue of the world cup series.
"The option will have to be perfect style and precision”
“It’s a big river hole with lots of dynamic energy”, describes Andrew Jackson, former national coach for Great-Britain and Spain. "For the athlete, that sets new challenges as you can’t force many opportunities here, your energy will not last the distance. So for most the option will have to be perfect style and precision”.
The public, almost at a hand’s reach of the paddlers, is sure to give the event a lively and popular atmosphere.
Junior men’s has had the same top three positions for both the previous world cups. With two straight wins Swede Max Karlsson leads with French Thomas Richard in second and Belgian Lane De Meulenaere in third.
That said their consistency is going to be challenged here and with a bunch of local Sort paddlers including Aran Balaguero Bros and Ian Salvat Cuevas chomping to show what they can do, this will be one to watch closely.
In Junior Women there is a real battle going on between the top two athletes Nuria Fontaine (ESP) and Rowan Stuart (USA). The fight has been on since 2013 when Rowan became world champion over the widely expected to win Nuria. In the World Cups so far it is two first places for Fontaine and two second places for Stuart.
Up and coming is British Emma Witherford in her first international year. She is definitely one to watch for the future.
“Half the paddle twice the man”
C1’s are going to battle with this big hole and the saying “half the paddle twice the man” is going to ring true if you’re going to snatch the title away from the current World Champion Jordan Poffenberger or fellow American Tad Dennis.
Expect these guys to go at it with ferocity and in a competition where a slip up could cost a final medal it will get emotional.
Japan are leading the way in Womens Squirt with Yoshiko Suematsu impressively dominating the field. If you want to see, power and grace exemplified in a super low volume boat then this is the one to watch. However an unusual rule that basically says ‘come on if you think you can’ means that we also have normal float boats (freestyle kayaks) in the class. This brings two very distinctive styles making the whole thing interesting.
Canoe Freestyle is growing
This 2014 edition of the World Cup is the biggest one ever organized by the ICF and rewards the efforts of the ICF Canoe Freestyle committee to professionalize the discipline. “The 400.000 euros spent over the three stages of this World Cup series is the largest investment made so far”, explains Lluis Rabaneda, Chairman of the committee.
“We have decided to standardize very important aspects of our discipline, like the IT system for results and the live streaming to gain exposure. In the end, it sure is more expensive but the results are beyond expectations. Freestyle is growing and attracting more and more people, athletes as well as important sport stakeholders. We’re headed in the right direction”, says Rabaneda.
Sort is the third stage of the 2014 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup after Millau (France, 25-29/06) and Salt (Spain, 01-06/07).
The challenge this year was to hold the competitions continuously in time, one after the other, and within a radius no bigger than 300 kilometers, to make it easier for paddlers to travel from one place to the other and also to reduce the costs of competition for teams.
“The appearance of Canoe Freestyle in the schedule of the 2014 Natural Games organized in France this year was definitely a guarantee of exposure for our discipline”, explains Rabaneda. “The integration was successful and more than 1.500 people came to see the finals. It was positive to mix Canoe freestyle with other sports”.
“Then we headed to Salt, where it was the first time that an international canoeing event was organized. It was the testament of years of effort to bring Canoe Freestyle to the highest level in the area, providing numerous world champions after training for 10 years in a swimming-pool.”
After three days of training, competition starts Wednesday at 12.00 (CET) with the qualifications heat.