The 2014 Freestyle World Cup is finished and what a series it was! My personal favourite event was the second one in Salt, I think most of the athletes will agree with me. The final event at Sort was a crowd pleaser too.
At Salt just about everything was on a very high level, it was the best opening ceremony of freestyle event ever – starting with the human tower of Catalonians, the red carpet, and official speeches (even I got on stage to great the athletes in Catalan); followed with dance show, drums, fireworks, parade and dinner. They also had a very good quality playspot, smart training schedule and good organisation, which resulted in the highest standard of paddling from all the athletes. Free accommodation in the old centre of Girona made it comfortable and interesting, as the medieval old city itself is a treasure of its own.
The scores were just sky high in every class, I think because we finally got plenty of training – every competitions day started no earlier then 15:00, so every day 'til 15:00 and every evening we could practice. I got my second best ICF competitions ride (410 points) and made the finals, finishing strong in 5th. In the finals the girls were pushing the boundaries every round, taking the lead in turns and making each other go bigger, I wish I could keep up with this level. The winning score was 736 points (Emily Jackson), second of 678 points (Hitomi Takaku) and third was 590 points (Marlene Devillez) – very impressive! Even the junior women's were throwing big moves, first place went to local paddler Nuria Fontane (over 500 points), second to junior women's World Champion Rowan Stuart (over 400 points) – two girls who kayaked like seniors. Junior kayak men's victory went again to Max Karlsson, he continued to impress judges going big in his Dagger Jitsu. Thomas Richard finished second and Lane De Meulenaere was third.
The most entertaining was of course K1 Men. In the prelims Sebastian Devred went crazy and scored the highest ICF ride again, bettering his last week record (1,700) to 1,740 points in one ride, leaving a 600 points gap between him and second place (Dane) in first round. Prelims left high expectations for the Brits with Pringle in third and James Weight in fifth. Tomasz Czaplicki did good and took fourth position. In the next rounds it all mixed up for many athletes, neither Tomasz or the Brits couldn't make it to the final. Sebastian wasn't able to repeat his performance. But in the semi-finals things heated up to boiling point – just about everyone had a super high scoring ride, making the cut to finals ridiculously high at 1,218 points (this is a winning ride in last Worlds). Sebastian was the last to go, having to watch all the amazing paddling from his rivals and (possibly) got a bit nervous, he had a few unfortunate flushes and kayaked way below his abilities, not making the finals and ending up in ninth place, making it easier for Dane to win this event. The fight for the medals was more about who will get silver and bronze. Mathieu and Peter Csonka fought hard, but the main drama being made by Quim Fontane, who had all the support from the crowd, as he is a local star here in Salt. He couldn't quite put it together in the beginning, but was going in the hole again and again like to battle, giving everything he could and bettering his score every run, accompanied by the loudest noise and cheering and electric energy coming from the full stadium. Supporters almost made him do it, and his last score tied with Mathieus (second best), so in the end Quim took bronze, leaving Peter just outside of podium, but making his local fans ecstatic. It was great to watch!
There was no break! The next morning after the finals in Salt we drove four hours up to the mountains to the next spot, as national training sessions were due to start at 13:00. Sort is a little mountain town through which the Noguera Pallaresa river runs. The hole used to be tricky, but they said they improved it, however when we got on the water it seemed much trickier than last year! I couldn't do a move and even lost my paddle once in training due to the feistiness of the hole. You can describe this feature as: powerful, wide, trashy, flushy, shallow in places and hard to retain for fourty-five seconds. Boats, paddles, fingers and egos started to get damaged, but practice does miracles, and by the end of our two days of training everyone could scrape together some kind of ride. On the plus side sometimes you could go very big, on the minus – you were most likely to flush on huge moves. For spectators it was great, lots of drama and unexpected action, a bit like gambling.
I was glad to make the semis, as I knew chance to get zero points was high. I ended up sixth, sadly just missing the final, but I was glad I had been consistent enough to make it that far. Scores weren't that high, but a very happy Hitomi put it together to take the win (about 300 points), she paddled very well throughout whole series and took the World Cup victory to Japan! Second was Marlene with her big loops and space godzillas and third Emily Jackson.
The junior men final started slow, boys battled with the feature, the rides weren't as good, but by the end Max Karlsson got some control over the hole and managed to do several nice moves, being very light in his Jitsu he is always going quite big and gets huge bonuses. He took the win here, confirming his World Cup victory, not giving any chance to his opponents to come even close to a first overall standing. Hunter Katich, who struggled to perform well in the previous two finals (in earlier rounds he often had the highest scores) here finally kayaked properly and took second, becoming third overall. Thomas Richard (second overall) was pretty unlucky in the semis and didn't make this final, opening the opportunity for local paddler Ian Salvat to make the cut to the top five. Ian didn't waste the chance and with solid smart ride climbed the podium here in third, making Sort crowds very happy and proud.
The men's battle was a great show again. In this feature paddlers understood it would be hard to get a high score the usual way and you need to outsmart your opponents, so people got more creative with how they use this pretty wide feature, moving across to a different parts of the hole and even add some wave moves in their rides (on the left shoulder). It wasn't clear if they scored, but for spectators it was fresh to see airscrews and back panams in a hole competition. From the first trainings it became obvious this spot suits some paddlers more than others. It definitely looked very good for Nick Troutman and Dane, as they were the most consistent. Tomasz Czaplicki was in promising fourth position after prelims, but the feature wasn't kind enough to him and he got out in seventh. The Brits almost made it to the final with very solid performance from Pringle in the semis, but was just left behind in sixth (matching my position). Sebastian didn't look as consistent in his rides, but in the semis paddled great, breaking the 1,000 points barrier (which was a lot for this feature), he arrived to final in first 1,076 points. Jason Craig had some shoulder problems and didn't train at all, however made it to the final with his huge McNasties in a stickiest bit of the hole.
Maybe, for the athletes, Sort event didn't feel as smooth as the over two events, but for spectators it was great, because of the night finals! The whole town came to watch, leaving no empty spaces at the stadium. Big screens, light show, fireworks, music and of course battle for the medals made it an exciting, loud and intense experience.
The men's finals started very strong with first ride by Mathieu looking like a win, he set the bar high and it was very spectacular. I thought it was his best ride in this feature. We expected it would be a 1,000, but judges gave only 820 points, leaving some room for improvement. No one beat it in the first round, but then Dane a great fifteen seconds in the end of his not too smooth second ride and it was enough to go over 900. Sebastian started his second run very well, with some lunar orbits, tricky woos and McNasties, but then whole stadium heard a loud hit on a rock – he broke his paddle! The final went as unluckily for Sebastian as it could go, taking up a new paddle for his third ride he didn't kayak as well as he could. With his best score under 600 points the hope for podium was lost. Sebastian had the highest scoring rides in every event of this World Cup, but his consistency and luck let him down, leaving him only in third overall. He was probably the only one, who could prevent Dane (first overall) from an easy win. Mathieu (second overall, second in Sort) showed himself as a great and solid competitor. He's done a lot of work on his mental strength and competitive abilities since his last year "missing the Worlds final" experience. We were very impressed watching him pulling off his best rides in the finals and climbing the podium at every event in World Cup. Nick Troutman had his best showing here in Sort, taking third and climbing the podium for first time in this World Cup.
I also like to mention and thank some paddlers and teams, who maybe didn’t made it to the podiums, but showed a lot of potential, improvement and was pleasure to watch and paddle with:
Japanese team are getting better and better and now female paddlers a serious force. It was entertaining watching Kazuya Matsunaga (K1M) throwing 1,000 point rides and some new young faces appearing too. I am sure there will be more medals for Japan in upcoming years.
The German team has some young meaty talent! Marvin Gauglitz was one of the nicest paddlers to watch in this World Cup, he goes big on every move, he just can't do them small! We wish him keep working, to add more tricks to his rides and we'll see him in a finals soon enough! Also Yannick Munchow and Paul Meylahn had some awesome rides occasionally showing that the younger generation of German team matures in to real K1 men!
The junior and kids teams were the biggest from Spain and they already can paddle well! I think future of Catalonian freestyle is very bright. It is inspiring to see the development of youth sport here and it's a good example for all other countries. I liked the spirit Salt and Sort kayak communities have: very family like, very safe and fun for the kids to start and grow, they have a good role models to look to as well.
The French team always were strong, now some new faces coming up in the juniors impress us by the high level of skill they already have. A team capable of a real senior rides.
The Polish team are gradually getting stronger and also very involved in everything that is going on a competition scene: judging, competing in K1 and squirt, commentating, and assisting. They maybe not the largest, but they're some of the most useful teams out there. Zosia Tula very impressed me in this series, making the finals twice. She progressed so much in last two years.
The Korean team is just starting on the international scene, but show a lot of commitment in developing freestyle in their country. They are maybe the most stylish dressed team on a bank.
The Russian team – I could not miss this one – this year we got Olympic track suits and finally do look like a national team, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Things are going on in Russian freestyle, in last couple of years people became enthusiastic: they organise, find sponsors, build, teach, train. In next years we’re planning on holding a big international event in Russia and very excited to do it good.
I can't really mention everyone, but I wish well to! All athletes, organisers, judges, volunteers, spectators made this series special and memorable – Katya
You can find full results here: www.facebook.com/pages/2014-ICF-Freestyle-World-Cup-Series