World Championships are coming to the USA soon!!I can’t believe it has been 20 years since the last time we had the World Championships in the USA. In that worlds, Corran Addison, Bob McDonough, Mark Lyle, Chris Spelius, Scott Shipley, were the favorites to win that event. Kent Ford did a video called “Take the Wild Ride” leading up to and during the event. I was a little late to the table for training there, as Dane was just born and was in the hospital as a “preemie” for 7 weeks, Kristine for 3 weeks. After Kristine was released I went to train in TN at the Ocoee. One week before the worlds, with bloody hands (both hands, all fingers, and palms were rubbed raw) and rib muscles so burnt out that I couldn’t sit up and had to roll over on my stomach to get off the ground, I went home to pick up Kristine, Emily, and Dane to bring them to the Ocoee. I won my first World Championships that year, with Scott Shipley getting second (he was 1st in the freestyle through a rapid and 4th in hole riding), and Shane Benedict getting third. Very cool…. That was 20 years ago….
Now, we are coming into the 2013 World Championships, for the first time back in the USA since 1993, and I am training to win my 5th title and win the only second ever worlds in the USA. Hmm… Cool stuff. Things have changed in 20 years. I won my first worlds in a Dagger Transition (bigger than RPM) at 9’6” long. My new Rock Star is 5’8” long and can do way more tricks. I won the 1993 Worlds, in part due to my new move that I created at that event, the “splitwheel”. I hope to win the 2013 Worlds using my McNasty, Lunar Orbit, etc.. linked with Split wheels, and adding in a bunch of other stuff, too. Other things that have changed is that the competition is stiffer than ever before! As the rate of new moves being developed by myself and others have slowed down and freestyle has become more sophisticated around the world in terms of training, the number of paddlers who are paddling at the higher levels keeps getting greater. There is always somebody who is the best, and the most likely to win, but there are more people who can throw a super high scoring ride than ever before. I expect to see some amazing rides at this world championships, and hope to/plan on being one of the athletes throwing them.
The organization keeps improving as well as the scoring systems used that provides information to the athletes and spectators at close to real time. NOC developed their own platform for the online show that shows the paddler, their ride, their score, and keeps a scoreboard rotating through after each ride so that people watching the live-online broadcast can see the event as if they were there.
The hole for the competition produces some high scores, as it is retentive. It isn’t an easy hole for paddlers who are not at the top of the women’s classes or at least ½ way up the men’s class. The weaker boaters will find it tough, but the best boaters can manage it and throw down hard in it. We developed the 2014 Rock Star, to handle this type of hole with as much ease as possible. Nick couldn’t believe how his first training rides in the new Rock Star felt so easy. He said that he was throwing anything he wanted at any time, including hard combos. He was very fired up about the new boat, and his ability to make it do what he wanted with his skills.
It will be very exciting training for, and then ultimately competing in the big event. There is so much that goes into winning the World Championships, once things get started. There are prelims- cutting from over triple digits down to 40. Then another huge cut from 40 to 10, and then another huge cut from 10 to 5, and finally three rides with the top 5 and having the highest score in the finals against those who made it. I have been in finals in all but 2 world championships- 1999 and 2011. I was 9th in 1999 and 11th in 2011 . In 2011 I missed the top 10 cut by one spot. I was in the last heat to go as flood warnings were issued and they were trying to get the quarter finals done that night. The lights went out and it was practically dark, except for the bright light shining in your eyes. Peter Czonka, got 25th in prelims so he got to go in the middle of the afternoon under natural light while the top five in prelims had to go under completely dark conditions other than the light shining on the hole. I was third in prelims and then 11th. This is how it goes sometimes. Peter went on to be 2nd and I had to watch the rest of the event from the shore. Competition is about crowning the person who does the best of anyone given the set of circumstances that they are given. All other paddlers in my night time heat made the cut, so my excuse for not making it clearly isn’t a valid one, as there is never an excuse for failure. You simply succeed or fail, period. There are different levels of success and failure, of course, as for some, making it to the world championships is success in of itself, and for some, unless they win, they didn’t succeed. I am very lucky in that I have many reasons for training and competing. One of them is that it is fun, another is that it is good for my health and the health of my friends and family. Others are that I like the challenge of trying to be the best in the world at what I do. Becoming a world champion in the men’s kayak class in freestyle means that on that day, you are the best in the world and your results proved it. Since I am always trying to win it, I have both won and failed many times. I have won 4 world freestyle championships. I have lost 6 of them. While that is a “losing record” in terms of win/loss ratio, winning a bi-annual world championships is much different than, say, basketball ratio. In basketball- your record is against a single team. To win the world championships you are 150 to 1 for example. (beating 150 people in the comp to get top spot) Done that way it sounds way cooler! Guessing on the field size from each event I have competed in the record would be more like 1200/39 – beating 1200 people and 39 people have beaten me in my 20 years of world championships. Fun stats… They certainly don’t help me for NOC, however!
What will help me at NOC? Confidence and doing it for the right reasons, having fun and showing off (which is fun for me) produces the best results for me. Putting pressure to win and focused on the win, instead of focusing on having rides that I can be proud of messes me up. Believe it or not the bigger the competition the more relaxed and fun it is for me. A small event, for some reason is often harder for me to relax and enjoy as I feel that I should win and worry about not winning.
I am very excited about the fact that some of my staff of Jackson Kayak will be there to cheer the team on. We haven’t had that since we started Jackson Kayak, other than having my family and team. This time it sounds like we’ll have quite a cheering squad, which is very exciting as it is only 4 hours from the factory. Joe Pulliam was at the 1993 Worlds and cheering me on as I won my first championships for Dagger back in the day. He said he would be at NOC cheering me, and the rest of the team on, 20 years later! That is cool. Kristine’s mom and Aunt were at the Worlds in Australia that I won in 2005. My dad has never been to a world championships of mine. He was at the 1992 Olympics in Spain, however, but that was 21 years ago. He is coming to NOC and so is my sister, who has never seen me compete in a big event. This is very satisfying and exciting for me to have close family and friends coming to watch and cheer, and many/most for the first time.
I just had the worst training period of my past 6 months in the past 2 weeks. Between being in NYC and then Outdoor Retailer, I have not been doing what you do when you want to win. However, I think it will work to my advantage as I am super hungry to train. I recognize that I need to stretch, warm up well, and get 2 weeks worth of cobwebs blown out (not that I haven’t paddled- I have paddled all but 6 days of the past 14, but not in a way that helps much- two sessions at rock island with Nick and Dane doing competition rides. One session at TVille with Jessie working on my cartwheel moves. The rest was teaching. Now I will go to Rock Island and then NOC and stay at NOC for the duration.
Father and Son rivalry- Lots of people are talking about Dane versus Dad. It is hard to ignore this crazy and unique situation where both a father and son are on a national team together, in an individual sport where they are competing against each other. Clearly Dane and I compete against each other all of the time, literally every day in the winter we are competing in games and kayaking, and all summer in freestyle and racing. We are both quite comfortable with the rivalry. It could be that we are not the only ones in the competition that makes it much less of a big deal for us. We have Nick, who eliminated my 4 year streak in Switzerland getting the gold and me the silver. We have Pringle who is current world champion, as well as Peter Czonka who won the 2012 World Cup (Dane was second). We have another 10 paddlers who could beat either Dane or I, or both, if we are not on our A game and they are. Clearly Dane and I both have our sights set on the same goal- World Champion- Gold Medal- top of the podium. So does Nick. I only mention them, because we all live together and we have all been on the top at least one time, and we train together daily. Family affair, friendly rivalry. One of the biggest questions Dane, Nick, and I get asked for TV interviews, or print interviews is: “How does it feel to compete against your dad, brother in law, son, son-in-law”. It is so comfortable for us that we really don’t have the answer they might be looking for, which includes some drama. We really do want each other to do their best and would be happy for the others to win. It is a win/win situation where we are very happy if we win ourselves, of course, but we are very proud of and happy for each other when the other wins. If none of us wins, we feel like we let each other down, but we are still happy for the experience.
Dave Olson has already said- “Wouldn’t it be cool if you were on the team with your grandson one day?” Meaning, as competitors. Hmmm…. Never say Never as I remember how ridiculous that sounded when I suggested that I wanted to do that with Dane one day back in 1993 when he was born. Finally that dream is coming true!
p.s. I just arrived at NOC last night. The drive was more exciting than I imagined as I was “driving to the Worlds” and the anticipation is as thick as honey. Will I win? Will I not even make finals like the last worlds? Can I train as hard as I want and not hurt myself (I like to train more hours than most everyone)? So much going through my head. Doing my first session with Dane today here. He has a 5 day head start on me training here… left while I was still at OR… that’s my boy! Wouldn’t expect anything else!