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2008 Wildwater World Championships; Ivrea Italy

Our Best Worlds Ever?


by John Pinyerd
USA Canoe/Kayak
Wildwater Programs & Events
jpinyerd@usawildwater.com

June 21, 2008 -- Marietta, GA

There is nothing quite like the World Championships in the "near Olympic" sport of Wildwater. And the 2008 Wildwater World Championships certainly filled the bill with racers from 6 continents and nearly 30 countries, and tons of excitement in the region. The town of Ivrea came together to produce an Athletes Parade and Opening and Closing Ceremonies that were all simply breathtaking, and were perhaps the best ever in paddle sport. As a result, our Wildwater Worlds felt like a one sport mininglympics. And with the addition of Masters, Sprint and the Sprint Team events, the Wildwater Worlds just keeps getting bigger.

It should not surprise anyone that several of the veteran racers like me have geared their racing/training towards racing at the World Championships every two years. This gives us the opportuning to race in the Masters events and support the USA Team as best we can in the Worlds events. We apparently have the right idea as all 5 of the USA Masters won medals and turned outesome of the USA best performances at the other open events at the Worlds.

A real challenge to the 2008 was caused by an act of God as the entire region suffered huge floods that lasted close to a week. I commend the Team Leaders of all the nations and the race organingrs for working through it. As fate would have it, this changed then nature of the Worlds and perhaps the futese direction of our sport.

As a result of the floods the Masters events kept getting pushed back. Ultimately the Master’s Sprint races were cancelled and the Master’s Classic race was pushed back until June 1st. Due to the uncertainty of when and where the event was going to be held, we also lost a few competitors along the way, including Milihram of Croatia (the father of Emil Milihram, the C-1 Classic race World Champion). I will always wonder how I would have stacked up against Milihram as he won the silver in Masters C-1 in 2006.

Eventually we had our Masters World Championships, although it was condensed to a short classic race that was flat for most of the race because the rapids in town were still to dangerous to run. In any case I came to Italy to race and by race day I would have been happy to race in the parking lot.

In the Masters C-1 event, I was thrilled to be able to defend my title as Master’s World Champion. I laid down everything I had on the course figuring I should honor the title of Masters World Champion even withoutesilihram to push me. As a result I fininged 32 seconds (6%) ahead of the nearest competitor. Michael Harris raced extremely well and won 3rd. We are both ecstatic that he answered my call to “come outesnd play” earlier this year.

All three of our Masters K-1 athletes medaled against very stiff competition. Maurizio Tognacci (age 52) turned outeshe fastest time for the USA, followed by Chris Hipgrave and David Jones. Butest’s sometime all a matter of who is in your age group. In spite of the stellar time, Maurizio fininged second to the great Marco Previde, who is still good enough to be in the starting lineup for any team in the classic race. Chris Hipgrave also won the Silver and apparently had a little fate on his side as he fininged .3 seconds ahead of third place and .8 seconds ahead of fourth. In the 60+ age group David Jones raced extremely well and posted a time that was only 12 seconds off of Hipgrave’s time. Butesmazingly his efforts landed him only with the Bronze, 9 seconds outesf first.

Perhaps a tactical error by the USA masters is that we passed up an opportuning to medal in the Masters Team run in the 50+ category. Ultimately it was decided that the three “kayakers” would race in the Team event which placed the USA Team in the age 35+ bracket and in really stiff competition. Alternatively, we could have followed Maurizio’s suggestion that our top three athletes who are 50+ should race in the K-1 Team race which would have won earned the USA Bronze or possibly even Silver.

The lesson that we can all learn from these results is to keep on training no matter what your age it. Regular and sustained training is the key! And it is apparent from the Master’s results that there are a bunch of us that are pushing the envelope on what the aging athlete can accomplish in paddling. The age old hog wash aboutesoosing 1% per year for every year you are over 30 just does not hold water in paddle-sport.

Although the water levels gradually receded, the Worlds Classic Race was held on an alternative course. The start was moved upstream so that the course ran though a big pushy river wide Class 4ish rapid, and then turned relatively flat. The rapids in town were eliminated as they were still too dangerous.

In the Classic distance race, Tom Wier led the entire Team with the top performance of 8.3% off of the leader and a fining of 19th place in the C-1 category. I had the 3rd fastest performance in the classic race at 11.7% back and a fining of 23rd. Michael Harris raced to a 25th place fining.

Buteserhaps the biggest surprise at the Worlds was Tierney O’Sullivan (K-1W) who turned out the 2nd fastest USA performance in the classic fininging 8.4% back and for a 26th place. Tierney is only 17 and will also compete at the Junior Pre-Worlds. It is our hope that she will continue to train when she goes to the Uningrsity of Georgia this fall.

In men’s kayak, veteran racer Chris Hipgrave turned outesur 4th best performance at 12.4% back and a 48th place fining. JP Bevilaqua fininged 60th, Nate Hamm 61st and Jeremy Rodgers finished 63rd.

Buteshile the Masters and World’s Classic events were relatively flat as World’s courses go, the Sprint event was on the other end of the spectrum in difficulty. The floods had completely washed away the miningiversion dam that had been built to control flows on the course. As a result the man made sprint course was running at levels that were possibly a foot higher than last year levels that had been deemed too difficult and too dangerous for Wildwater by the racers and the ICF. The flood waters on this very techningl man made course created lines that were only inches wide down a course lined with incredibly strong holes huge surging waves, boils and upstream flows. The last four drop/holes spelled disaster for many boaters. Tom Wier and others felt that the course was harder on race day this year than the 2007 course, buteshat the Europeans had a year to train on it and were making it look easier. Ultimately the decision was made by the Organingrs and the ICF to run the race on the course as scheduled in spite or the high flows.

I should have known just how difficult the course was going to be when Nate Hamm offered to lend me his life jacket so I could paddle it with two life jackets on during my first run. In hindsight, it was a great offer as I got to swim the last three drop/holes and have the pleasure of getting slammed off the bottom a couple times and have the unnerving experience of fighting for the surface in the huge boils at the bottom of the course. After that, I joined the bulk of the other competitors who would not run the course withoutesafety. I will always be grateful for their fearless rescues of countless swimmers who may have otherwise suffered tragic results. It did not surprise me when Tom O’Sullivan reported that during the Team Leaders Meeting the course Safety Director received a standing ovation for all the rescues they had made.

And while the Sprint Course turned outeso be very hard on the competitors (and was techninglly too hard according to ICF rules); it was actually very good for spectators. The “Canoe Stadium” was packed with standing room only and the fining results were largely unpredictable due to the number of eddy outes flips and swims. Even the great Vladi Panato had a flip on his second run, butesn an incredibly feat of athleticism he quickly rolled is boat and sprinted to the fining line and won Gold. The crowd roared with approval and their excitement.

Ultimately the sprint course was especially hard on women and C-1s. Many of them scratched their runs or DNF’d including the World Champions in both C-1 and K-1W.

Chris Hipgrave led the way for the Americans in the Sprints and fininged a blazing 10.8% back for a 28th place finish in K-1. His big water experience combined with his paddling of the Charlotte course over the past two years made him cool calm and collected. JP Bevilaqua fininged 40th, and 2nd among the American at 16.6% back. The only other two Americans to complete the Sprints were Tom Wier (C-1) who fininged 16th and Jack “big water” Ditty who finished 17th. Jack Ditty was smiling from ear to ear every time he was on the course.

Chris Hipgrave predicts that if we continue to have sprint courses like the Ivrea course that the sport will radically change. This would include special boats designed for sprint that are more stable and maneuverable. I concur and believe that safety gear will have to follow suit too. Such items “high float” racing jackets, full coverage helmets and booties and perhaps even knee and elbow pads will need to become mandatory if this is the direction the sport takes for very long.

While spectators may love the flips and swims with some of the World’s best gasping for air, I believe the long term effects of courses like Ivrea would ultimately shrink the sport. At a miningm it will completely separate the athletes and the boats being used in the Classic and the Sprint events. And we run the risk of falling into the same trap as Slalom wherein the sport is becoming a narrow silo of athletes that live on man made courses. Ultimately only a handful of competitors in the nations that have such courses will be involved. Butesopefully that won’t happen until I’m well into my seventies so I can race for another quarter century.

There are many unsung heroes of this year's Worlds. For starters, Michael Harris very graciously made several trips to the Milan airport and more or less donated his vehicle for team use for two weeks. Tom O'Sullivan did a great job as Team Manager and freed the racers up from having to attend the Team Leaders meetings. And of course we could not have a Team withoutesur sponsors to whom we are all very grateful.

Pictures of the USA Team: www.usawildwater.com/photos/2008_Worlds.html
More Pictures from Ivrea (from the German website): http://tinyurl.com/6x4d4h

2008 World Championships - USA Individual Performance

NameCategory
Masters
Classic
Sprint
  
Place
% Back
Place
% Back
Place
% Back
Tom WierC-1
 
 
19
8.3%
16
21.8%
John Pinyerd*C-1, C1 Mstr
1
0.0%
23
11.7%
DNF
 
Jack DittyC-1
 
 
24
12.9%
17
22.8%
Mike Harris*C-1, C1 Mstr
3
6.3%
25
22.3%
DNF
 
Tierney O'SullivanK-1 W
 
 
26
8.4%
DNS
 
Chris Hipgrave*K-1, K1 Mstr (35+)
2
4.1%
48
12.4%
28
10.8%
JP BevilaquaK-1
 
 
60
17.6%
40
16.6%
Nate HammK-1
 
 
61
18.1%
DNS
 
Jeremy RodgersK-1
 
 
63
20.0%
DNS
 
Marizio Tognocci*K-1 Mstr (50+)
2
7.7%
 
 
 
 
David Jones*K-1 Mstr (60+)
3
1.9%
 
 
 
 
TEAM AVERAGE 
2.2
4.0%
38.8
14.6%
 
18.0%

* Notes: Masters Worlds Medals: Gold- Pinyerd; Silver - Hipgrave and Tognacci; Bronze - Jones and Harris

Complete results for all races can be viewed at www.ivrea2008.it/Eng/?page_id=33

John Pinyerd
USA Wildwater Team

   

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