Deep breaths, sighs, focused eyes. Smiles, jumps and stretches. The world’s best extreme kayakers each had their own pre-race routine as they overlooked the powerful rush of the Wellerbrücke rapids and prepared for the days battle. “The levels are higher today,” said Dane Jackson (USA), “The river is pushier, making it easier to get off line. The slightest bit off lines slows you down and quickly kills chances of a top run.” The pressure was full on and it showed as athletes were making more mistakes in their practice runs. Champions Killer Minus One was beefier, stickier and wreaking havoc amongst many.
How good are these guys? David Pierron (FRA) seen jumping around before the start admitted he was “not awake yet.” Even after running down a class V rapid? “Haha yes that helped, but only briefly.”
Athletes donned ski coats over dry suits to stay warm in the rain and colder temperatures as spectators braved the conditions to get a look at the action.
After the mandatory practice run the competition began. The top 48 men went head-to-head in a knockout round. 24 made it through along with 2 fastest losers. These top 26 then went head-to-head again, pairing the field down to 13 plus the two fastest losers which qualified the top 15 for the super final. “It’s a unique format,” explained Joel Kowalski (CAN) “and with the two lucky losers per round making it through, it’s fair.” The top 5 ladies get two runs each. The fastest combined time crowns the Sickline Queen.
The higher water levels made spectating exciting and had the safety team on their toes. Champion Killer Minus One turned out to be the crux move on the course. Some powered their way through while others were sucked into the hole and had to fight hard to get out. Competitors cheered each other on. “It’s extreme kayaking so you looking for each others back,” said 2013 Sickline Queen Nourie Newman, “you want to win of course but you want your paddling buddies to be well and safe at the bottom of the race.”
Kiwi Sam Sutton, the race favorite, spent his morning watching the river, his competitors and even his 11-month old daughter, staying warm as he pushed her stroller up the trail in the rain. His two near perfect runs in the knockout rounds were a surprise to no one. Looks of awe, even grins, from fellow competitors were seen on the sidelines. He was bested only by his younger brother, Jamie Sutton, who screamed down the course setting a new course record of 55.73.
With race favorites Fabian Dörfler (GER), Mike Dawson (NZL) and Paul Böckelmann (GER) eaten alive by the course it seemed as though the Sutton boys would have an easy ride to the podium. The super final field was still strong, with the world’s best whitewater, slalom and river expedition paddlers hungry to dethrone the seemingly unbeatable 3-time world champion.
After two solid runs down the Wellerbrücke, one of which bettered many of the men on the day, 22-year old Nouria Newman captured her first Extreme Kayak World Championship and was crowned the 2013 adidas Sickline Queen. “Sometimes the river is stronger than you or you can’t read it properly and it doesn’t work for you, but sometimes you make it and it’s all good, like today. It was really good fun.”
After a quick lunch break, the skies cleared and the top 15 athletes took to the rising river for the final time. The banks of river were packed with spectators. Rock music was blasting. The announcer explained that the Champions Killer Minus One was the one to watch. “The right line is safer, the left more risky but faster. The best guys will take that. More water means faster lines, but make a mistake and it’ll force you off your line where you don't want to be.”
All athletes want a chance to sit in the ‘hot seat’ – the jacuzzi situated conveniently at the finish line of the course – with the Sickline Queen. Post the fastest time and you earn your spot. Daniel Klotzner, 21, from Italy, had a near perfect run, smashing his previous time with a 56.56, which kept him cozy in the hot seat while one-by-one the course took its toll on the other competitors. With only two competitors to go, Joe Morley (GBR), slalom specialist, blazed down the raging river and jumped into the hot seat with a time of 56.10. All eyes then turned to Sam Sutton, the final racer of the day, and clear favorite. Proving that anything can happen, Sam made an uncharacteristic mistake in the Champions Killer costing vital seconds. His time was only good enough for fifth place on the day, bested for the first time by younger brother Jamie who finished fourth. Egor Voskoboynikov, a river expedition paddler from Russia, took third.
Known for his success in slalom kayaking, Joe Morley, the two-time U-23 Great Britain National Champion calls this his best achievement. “For three years 150 guys have gone against Sam [Sutton] and tried to beat him over and over again. The Wellerbrucke rapid itself is hard to get down and to get down it quicker than everyone else is a good feeling. I took a bit of time out of slalom this year to concentrate on white water paddling and it’s paid off. I had to tell myself that it was possible. I just put a good run down and it’s all come through.”
In true kayaker style, the party atmosphere ensued from hot seat to podium to the official champions party at Jay’s Cantina in downtown Oetz. Festivities lasted long into the night as kayakers, friends and family celebrated another epic adidas Extreme Kayak World Championship.
Join us next year for another wild ride down the Wellerbrücke.