Our lead up to this season has been a little bumpy to say the least. Following our success in Dubai where we were crowned World Champions, more good news was announced by Suzie and Fran who are adding to our legacy of future rafters. We now have enough mini rafters popping out to make an entire team – watch this space! So some old faces are taking time out whilst new ones are stepping up to the mark. However, during a break following an incredible slalom career, London Olympian Lizzie Neave broke her collarbone whilst mountain biking in The Redwoods, New Zealand. Not long after, Irina Medunyak took a slalom boat to the ribs and suffered a punctured lung. Two members down with four months until the European Championships. But these girls are made of strong stuff. Dealing with operations, frustrating recovery periods and light training duties, their commitment never waned and were both back to full power by the time we hit the start line! Our new team is incredibly resilient, we have tried our hands at most positions in the raft and are encouraging ambi-sided paddlers! Our new team also felt right the moment we all got in a raft together for the first time. And with the pressure off mentally, we were all really excited and happy to be racing together at the Euros.
After all this, actually getting to Georgia was the easy part. Situated in the Caucasus region; the highest mountain range in Europe, Georgia is a paddler’s paradise. We were racing on the Mtkvari River, near Borjomi. The Mtkvari is long (starting in Turkey, and ending at the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan) and wide, with a rapid response to rainfall. And how it rained. We were thankful for our warm gear, having
We were thankful for our warm gear, having learnt our lesson previously that just because you are boarding a plane, does not mean it is going to be boiling at the other end. Water levels fluctuated which was good for fun but bad for consistent training. During races the weather cheered up and we switched to our new NeoFlex tops and leggings which get a well-deserved plug … this was our first official outing in our NeoFlex tops and we loved them. They have a Thermospan soft and toasty liner which meant that we could wear them on their own. This is really good for racing as they are super flexible and not bulky. There are also no underarm seams, which saved our pits during daily training. These ones are much stretchier than their predecessors, making them easy to slip on and off whilst holding their snug fit. We were also lucky enough to showcase a new product for Palm – the NeoFlex bra top. Swit swoo!! Tried and tested by each of us, the stretchy fit meant that our range of sizes were easily accommodated.
A total of forty-four teams (from Under 19s to Masters) took part. Amazingly, each team had a dedicated raft (normally, a foreign bun fight queue pushes us Brits to the limit). The race sections were grade 3, but that didn’t stop a number of flips in the unassuming large holes and crashing waves. Head to Head races, as ever, were a spectacle to watch. The course was wide but with a definite fast line down the right-hand side of the rapids. A large right-hand bend provided opportunities for mistakes, and much to our horror, we ended up in such a position during our final gold/silver battle against the Russians. We worked incredibly hard to gain a lead at the start, but just as we approached the bend we took on just a bit too much of the inside eddy which the Russians took expert advantage of, and zoomed past us on the final straight. A tough lesson for us, but nonetheless, a hard fought Silver medal to kick start our campaign.
Day two saw the Slalom competition get underway. The course was one of the toughest and best yet; using the full width of the pumping river, with all gates viable if you could hold your ferry and push your muscles to the max! Massive shout out to our coach Tom Quinn who sadly couldn’t join us in Georgia, but who avidly watched the livestream and advised us on tactics and moves from 2,600 miles away. His GB slalom background and dedication to our training sessions clearly paid off as we put in the most solid slalom run in our history, to win the gold in this event. A truly awesome moment for us.
The final race and one worth the most points is the Downriver endurance. The format was a held start (someone holds the back of your raft on a start line) in heats of five rafts. The start line was along the bank, so lane choice would naturally be for the most downstream position. As we were tied joint first with Russia the night before this race, we had to do a coin flip to decide who would have the priority lane. Unlucky for us, we lost. Our powerful start, however, is world renowned and we certainly pushed the Russians along for the first couple hundred metres. It is always tricky to muster up another gear after 20 minutes of anaerobic exercise, and after a while, they started pulling away from us. Not too disappointed though as we finished close behind and it was a fair race. The result meant that we went into second place overall and were presented with Silver medals at the closing ceremony. An incredible result for our first major competition together! After a week of hard work, we enjoyed our bottles of bubbly and got the party started …
Georgians are a super friendly bunch who love to host and who are all too eager to share their local schnapps, Chacha. During the week, team manager Sean Clarke bravely put himself forward for the daily shot, but we didn’t get away so lightly on the final night. Incredibly, we woke up the next day and embarked on a wild tour of Georgia with our host, Nico and his chums. This included a visit to Stalin’s house which is now part of a museum oddly appearing to celebrate the life of this dictator (he was born in Georgia and is somewhat revered for bringing the Soviet Union to its height of power). On a lighter note, we headed onwards to the Uplistsikhe cave complex, one of the oldest urban settlements in Georgia. And finally, to round the week off we signed up for a Georgian massage at the spa baths in Tbilisi. Not too dissimilar to being water-boarded after a punch up, I was more relieved than relaxed after 30 minutes of massage endurance.
Open Men – 1st Russia, 2nd Czech Republic, 3rd Russia
Open Women – 1st Russia, 2nd Great Britain, 3rd Russia
(At the European Championships each country is allowed to enter two teams per category. If you are keen to get a team together to try for selection, keep an eye on our blogs here for more info coming soon!)