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2014 Wildwater World Championships - Day 3
Individual qualifying sprint runs

June 15, 2014 -- Adda River, Valtellina Italy

by Doug Ritchie, USA Wildwater Team Member

"If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough" - Mario Andretti, Legendary race car driver and Indianapolis 500 winner

Day three of competition brings the individual qualifying sprint runs. The ICF format has changed over the years and now racers take the best time from their two allotted runs.

The top athletes in each class qualify for the finals which take place tomorrow morning. The team sprint event, three boats on the water at the same time! takes place tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow's sprint final will be a one run go for broke spectacle where each racer not only has to deal with the river but also the crowd noise. Standing on the shore with whistles, bells, flags, and air horns will be the team supporters, spectators, and all the racers who don't qualify.

Our pre-race warm up is tricky to figure out. The best we can come up with is to put in at the sprint rapid and start off cold. We'll then head down to the "Mexico" bridge and have Chris pick us up. That'll give us time on whitewater and we can get in some short sprints.

I take a look at the river which has risen yet again; it's now about 120 cubic meters per second. Keep in mind that when we first arrived the river was in the 45 to 55 cubic meter range. When the Adda rose to eighty cubic meters it seemed really big, today it has about 50% more water and seems huge.

I sit in the start eddy and think; "Well, good morning to you Adda river, I see you're up again".

A moment later when I take a big cold breaking wave in my face, I feel like the river speaks to me personally - "And good morning to you Mr. Ritchie, yes I am up again!"

We get in a good warm up and go back to the sprint course to see if we can scope out any more insight on the race line.

For me the toughest thing is the speed at which the river is flowing. In order to maintain boat control a paddler really needs to paddle faster than the river. Wildwater boats really only steer when they're moving faster than the water. I find myself making the mistake of letting my speed drop. I'm going to have to get over this mental error and paddle harder.

My first run goes off pretty well. There's one big rolling wave in the middle of the river that's been plaguing me all week and today is no exception. I find the deepest part and get buried in water. My time is pretty good though and a couple of other racers comment about my line and that I looked in control. My confidence rises, I decide to get more aggressive on my second run.

Marin Millar takes her first run and has trouble in the main chute. I can see here really well from up on the shore and though her boat porpoises in the big waves she seems lined up fine.

As she drops into the main chute she gets surfed left and pushed over into the rocks and holes on the river left side. She gets eddied out but turns around and finishes her run.

Kurt Smithgall starts his run, his line looks good but he takes a bad stern hit and the tail of his carbon/Kevlar race boat explodes. I'm prone to exaggeration but not in this case. The boat looks like a grenade went off in it. The back of the boat is broken clean through in about six places.

Emmanuel's first run is strong and he's right on line most of the way. Near the bottom he ends up too much in the middle and drops into two big holes. From my perch up on the bank I can see his boat go up and then woosh sort of disappear, all I see is his helmet, then up and then gone again. I figure that's not fast but probably better for me to assume he already knows.

Second runs are where things really get interesting; Kurt takes his boat home and tapes it all back together with duct tape. He uses his stern crash guard as a sort of splint so the boat will have a shape sort of like it's supposed to have. Kurt takes his second run and improves his time by over two seconds!

I take my second run and I've got this idea that I've been too conservative. People are saying I look good, that my lines are great, I'm gonna gun it this time. I take off from the start and paddle a lot harder. I manage to squeak just a bit left of the hole that's had my number. I still take some in the face but no big deal. I'm moving a lot faster than on my first run.

There's only one slight problem; I'm moving directly at the big rock on the river left side of the chute. Emergency rudder stroke, there's no option. My speed drops to nearly zero, I make it around the rock but get pushed way left and have to fight not to end up in the trash where Marin got shoved. My first run will have to be my best.

I get back up on the shore with the spectators to watch Marin take her final run. She too seems to be more aggressive. Her boat literally launches out of the water on one of the big waves but it lands flat and she keeps it in control. She comes clean into the main chute, the river surfs her left but this time she's ready. A powerful left stroke on top of the big diagonal wave keeps her straight and she runs a really clean fast line down the river left. She threads the big holes and waves. From up here it looks great.

Emmanuel, who wasn't happy with his first run, watches Marin take her second and decides that she's got the line figured out. After almost 10 days of training he decides, at the last minute, to completely change his line and follow Marin.

We're all up on shore now to watch Emmanuel. He starts off smooth with a lot of power then gets into clear spot and his stroke rate picks up. He sets his boat in almost exactly the same place that Marin did and absolutely smokes his second run!

Emmanuel moves up from 37th place to 13th position and qualifies for the finals tomorrow morning.

Ciao from the Adda river,

Doug Ritchie