By Eric Jackson

PH1_6414 PH1_7977 PH1_9070 PH1_9293-2 PH1_9523-620x350Every World Championships has the stories that can be best described like the tag line for the ABC’s Wide World of Sports- “The Thrill of Victory, or the Agony of Defeat”. There is an entire array of experiences that fall in between those extremes, and that is where most people find themselves. There is a common thread for most people, however, and that is that friendships are made, their skills reach new peaks from the focused training, and their memories will forever include this life experience.

This World Championships is special, in that the venue is a natural beauty and the wave is phenomenal. Expectations of the athletes are always varied and their performance always colors their description of the event when they describe it to others, unless, of course, they can see the event for what it is, and their performance, which is 100% their own responsibility another. The balanced and happy individuals will make the most out of the event, win or lose, meeting or failing to meet their expectations, and will spin yarns about the on and off water moments that left a lasting impression on them to their grandchildren one day. Some will be bitter and feel robbed in some way, that their moment in the sun didn’t materialize and their dreams were dashed, and instead of owning up to the simple fact that their rides weren’t good enough to advance to the end, or win in the end, they will find fault somewhere else. This is always an unfortunate thing to see, as it robs them of the ability to learn from their mistakes, enjoy what was good about the experience, and be a positive force for themselves and those around them. The worst saying or concept in sports is that the biggest winners are the worst losers, and that if you can be a good loser, you are not going to be a winner. That couldn’t be further from the truth as the biggest spoiled babies who are not confident in their own skin are poor losers as they feel the need to show that they feel they should have won with bad behavior. The true winners can be identified in how they lose. If you want to know what someone is really made of, watch them when they lose, not when they win. Anyone can be happy and friendly, and nice when they win.

The past week has had lots of winning and losing.

Dane didn’t make the finals in squirt boating, which he was the world champion two times ago and silver medalist last time. I hated to see that, because I know how much he wanted to, and could medal again, but I did like seeing him leave the venue that afternoon to go train for his other events and while he was teary eyed for the first 15 minutes, he was all smiles after that.

Claire Ohara, not only won the women’s squirt, but she dominated, with big rides, and then was proposed to by Jez immediately after her winning ride. Talk about the Thrill of Victory- layering an engagement on top of a world championships squirt boating win would blow most people’s fuses, I would imagine from the surge of energy.

In the Women’s Class- Courtney Kerin from New Zealand, who has been training everyday for the past 6 weeks here, and a past medalist and 6th in the last worlds, didn’t make it past prelims with 11th place. Being the “Bubble Boy or Girl” , the first one out of the next round is one of the hardest things in competition, as it is rarely more than one move, or even the value of 1/10th of a move sometimes. So close, but yet so far. Katie Kowalski, from Canada, was that girl with 205 points, only one non-blunt away from finals. Even worse, she heard on the announcing that she would be in, a simple mistake that is easy to make as the flow of information is coming very fast to these guys (who are doing awesome announcing), but Katie thought she was in the finals until the results were printed and posted. You could see the heartbreak in her eyes and while she was sad and disappointed, she was over it and smiling again in less than an hour and was saying that she is very happy about her paddling and experience at this worlds.

In the men’s class- Peter Csonka, from Slovakia, who was three time silver medalist, and wants the win badly, and is a fierce competitor, hard trainer, talented, strong, and level headed, missed the semi-finals by a few points as did his lovely wife, Nina. I have only seen him miss one finals before- the 2009 Worlds in Thun Switzerland. He will regroup and be back in his boat I am sure in no time.

Adrienne Levknecht is new to the worlds scene, compared to people like Peter, Courtney, even Katie, as this is her second worlds. She was the underdog at NOC last time, where people didn’t expect her to win a medal until they saw her paddle there, and she won the Bronze in the end. At this worlds, she came in as a medalist, and people expect another medal, or certainly know you are a threat for it. She took the top spot in prelims, beating out Emily Jackson who has two golds and a silver in her last three worlds she has competed in. Unfortunately, she flushed right away on her first ride, looking a little nervous. There is no more pressure in a World Championships than your second semi-finals ride, where you are not in the finals yet, and the only way to get in is to have a great ride on your next one. Adrienne dropped into the wave, had to paddle hard to stick it, and then bailed on her first pass, and everyone held their breath as she needed to relax and start throwing her tricks…instead she spun backwards and caught her edge and flushed out the back before throwing a move. It was heartbreaking to watch as this was not a ride and certainly not representative of what she was capable of. When someone, like Adrienne, does that after winning a round, everyone sees and remembers it. For every Adrienne memory like that, there are many more done by paddlers who we didn’t acknowledge, but for them, the feeling is the same. “What the heck just happened? and “Can I just get one more ride to show what I can do?” The finals will not be as strong without Adrienne, but that is true for every finals as there is at least one paddler in each class, that had they made finals, would be a strong threat to the podium.

Emily Ward, from England, but now living on the banks of the Nile River in Uganda, won the semi-final round, also beating out Emily Jackson, who has two seconds so far in the early rounds, showing her consistency, but not yet winning any rounds. This is Emily Ward’s first finals, and her practice on the Nile with her husband Sam (bubble boy in the men’s with an impressive 6th place) is paying off. Hitomi from Japan, last world’s silver medalist, is right where she wants to be, in finals again, and looking strong. Katerina from Russia is also in finals and she was a “sleeper” just barely making the cut into semi-finals, and then just barely making finals, but she is there and now she can relax and just go for it in the final round. Claire Ohara, the reigning World Champion who beat Emily Jackson in the 2011 Worlds, but hasn’t faced her since in the worlds (Emily didn’t make the 2013 team, but they had many showdowns in other events) gets to compete in finals also and the Emily/Claire showdown is something many people are anticipating as Claire has two golds back to back, and Emily had two golds (Junior and then Senior and then a Silver medal) in her career. Who will win this one, is something that I am sure they are wondering, but also many others. Of course, it might be someone else… but nobody can deny that when you have the two most successful women’s freestyle paddlers on the planet in the same finals, one will prevail over the other and all eyes will be on that showdown.

In the men’s K1 Class, the quality of the rides in yesterday’s semi-finals was unreal. While the women struggled to put down big scores, and upsets, like Adrienne’s flushes, were common, in the Mens’ class it seemed like they couldn’t fail and it was simply who went off the hardest, biggest, and longest. It was Team JK’s Nick Troutman and Dane Jackson who threw like it was so easy that you just had to go for it. Dane throwing two 1400 point rides in a row and Nick getting a 1500 point first ride. Both of them looked flawless to the untrained eye, but they both left 200 points on the table, and they both know it. Yes, 1700+ points may well happen today if they are feeling it, but that would mean reaching their potential and no mistakes in 45 seconds of a flurry of BIG moves with Huge bonuses. Bren Orton, from England, has a massive first 30 seconds of his ride, but he run out of moves that he is good at before his time is up and he doesn’t have moves that score as much in the last 15 seconds as Dane and Nick. However, he can still throw a 1500 point ride, I believe, if he can keep it going after 30 seconds, which only a handful of paddlers can do on this wave. Mathieu Dumoulin, from France, also has 1700 points worth of moves, but misses a move here and there at a higher percentage than the Nick, Dane, and Bren on the front end of his routine. If he can loosen up, and throw harder/faster with more confidence, his moves will fly and when he hits his groove he really hits his groove and is a threat to the top of the podium. Jaquim Fontane, from Spain, is also an explosive and talented paddler, but he paddles with emotion, and is a hot/cold paddler. Yesterday he was hot and nailed two 1200 point rides in a row. Today, we will see. He is the least consistent paddler in finals based training, but he is seasoned in international competition (winning his first medal in juniors in 2011- second to Dane) he knows that this is a no-holds barred finals and will throw fast and furious. As long as he doesn’t get rattled, he clearly is a threat to the podium as well.

C1 is going to be a showdown as well with Current world champion- Jordan Poffenburger, Dane Jackson, Seth Chapelle, Sebastien Devred, and Zach Zwanenburg all capable paddlers. Dane won both initial rounds, and Zach was second two times. Jordan hasn’t hit his stride yet, but can throw massive rides and I imagine is still the biggest threat to Dane, who seems to be able to win each round so far, but that is without Jordan throwing what he is capable of yet. The young Zach Zwanenburg is one to watch, as he is new to the world’s scene and acts like he has been here forever and paddles super consistently and with lots of gusto. Seth Chapelle and Sebastienne are also paddling with the skills to win on a good ride, so it is going to be a “wait and see’ finals for C1….. the waiting will be over soon!

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