2017 Freestyle World Championships, San Juan.
That’s what I can only imagine was going through Rob Crowe’s head as the 2017 World Championships in San Juan came to a close with a flurry of fireworks from the far side of the river.These world championships had been one of the best that I have attended myself, and will be remembered by everyone for many reasons. Firstly, it was the first kayaking event I have been to that had to add breaks into the schedule as it ran ahead of time! There was also some of the highest scoring rides, and smoothest looking rides I have seen. Finally, Great Britain also manage to top the medals table, beating the USA! I also got to see a good friend achieve his dream of becoming world champion.Britain’s success started right on day one of the competition with the squirt boating. A long day for the paddlers saw the whole squirt competition done in just one day! Our first finalist was Peak UK’s Claire O’Hara, looking to defend her women’s title for another year. Then over in the men’s category we saw Alex Edwards return to the world stage and David Rodgers making his debut, both making the final. In true gentlemen’s fashion, it was ladies first. Claire didn’t have the ideal first two rides, only creeping up into second place, with Hitomi from Japan leading the way. But this wasn’t Claire’s first rodeo, she kept her cool and laid down a final ride that smashed the competition away. Claire O’Hara is the 2017 World Champion. Closing day one was the men! For this final GB had two paddlers; Dave Rodgers, current British Champion and known locally as Crispy, and Alex Edwards. A master class of surface moves was put on by all paddlers, with most getting down time in a tricky mystery spot. That was until Clay Wright’s final run where he clocked up a huge 22 seconds! The crowd started to panic he was gone for so long! But by that point the podium positions were set, Crispy Dave with bronze, Alex Edwards in silver and Clay Wright, inventor of the loop, taking home the honours with gold!The next three days of competition saw every float boat take to the water, battling it out to make it through prelims and to either the quarter or semi-finals. Team GB saw very few casualties at this point of the competition, only losing four paddlers. Not too many upsets were seen at this point of the competition.Friday saw quarters and semi finals, with the remaining paddlers fighting to make the top 5 and progress to the floodlight finals of Saturday evening. A lot of exciting paddling was seen throughout the day, with records being broken in a few categories, and a few plot twists too. Reigning world champion Emily Jackson bowed out of the competition at the semi finals along side her husband Nick, also at semi finals. This stage saw a few more GB paddlers leave the competition too, with only six making the cut for Saturday. Not everyone was upset to be out of the competition, everyone came into it with their own ambitions, so a sad face was rarely seen.For all those not lucky enough to be in the finals, Friday night saw the elusive ‘Loser’s Party’! The original plan of a pool party had to be altered due to health and safety (snore!), but a lovely seedy nightclub was located and the party was on! Free beer and pizza was promised and delivered, making for a good night of kayaker party!A blurry eyed crowd turned out Saturday to watch the top five paddlers of each category compete for the medals. Kicking the action off was the juniors, a wise move as they were definitely not up late the night before. Representing GB here was Otilie Robinson-Shaw, making it through each round in second place, with the American and defending world champion Sage Donnelly just ahead of her. Otilie came out with a questionable first run, not her best by a long shot but enough for second place behind Sage. However, Otilie’s second run was a good one, nailing two mcnasty’s, space gozillas and many other moves, she moved up the rankings to first! A place she would try to defend on run three. A not so good last run meant she had a nail biting wait as she had to sit and watch Sage try to out-do her one last time. Even after Sage’s last run was done the wait wasn’t over, the judges were taking their time to count up her points. But eventually they came in……. just short, making Otilie the world champion!!!! High fives all round from friends and coaches, and even a few tears from her dad in the stands too. Otilie was over the moon and couldn’t quite believe it was true until that medal was around her neck!Next up was Harry Price and Alex Walters in the junior mens final. With two out of five finalists being GB there was a good feeling among the team. The boys laid down some huge runs, scoring points that would put them in the seniors final! The French phenom Tom Dolle laid down a crazy run, coming in at over 1700 points, enough to win the seniors! But the GB boys kept up with the pace, laying some big runs down and landing on the podium. Harry took bronze and Alex silver. What a morning for team GB! There was no GB interest in the C1 final (my bad!) but it was still a show, with every paddler landing tricks both ways to rack up big points. Dane Jackson took the win, with Sebastian Devred in second and Lukas Cervinka in third. A good show from the Europeans!Once the sky had grown dark and a thunder storm had threatened the floodlights were kicked into action, lighting up the feature and the lovey hills on the bank opposite. First to take the stage was the ladies. Repping GB here was Dr Islay Crosbie and Clair O’Hara! The bleachers were full and the sound was pumping! The Dr was first off, laying down a range of moves, clocking up the points. Claire wasn’t too long behind her, taking to the stage with the experience she has gained from the numerous championship finals. The standard in this women final was super high this year, pushing all previous records of points. But taking the glory and reclaiming her world title with a huge 925 points was Claire O’Hara! Britain’s second world champion of the day!! Islay coming narrowly in fifth place.To close the competition off was the men. Mr Rob Crowe was GB’s representative here! Sporting his Buzz Lightyear inspired kit he set off to the feature intending to go to infinity and beyond! Rob came into this final in second place, so he was hoping to at least maintain his position or creep up the rankings. Some big names joined him in that final though, defending world champion and C1 world champion Dane Jackson, European champion Quim Fontaine, C1 silver medallist Sebastian Devred and multiple world medallist Stephen Wright. So a tough competition was to be had! Taking an early lead was Dane, with a score of 1683. This was a score to beat! But it stood…. Until run three. Rob Crowe was sitting in fifth place until his third run score of 1295, boosting him into fourth. But Quim came down and performed an almost floorless run, knocking it out of the park and scoring 1718. Quim took the lead! It was only the final paddler that could take the win off him, but that was defending world champion Dane Jackson. Moves linked into moves that flew high into the air. A lovely run from Dane, until his lunar loop landed on the back of the feature and flushed out. He sprinted back up to try and add more points to his total but he knew it was going to be close. I don’t think the judges could have made the guys wait any longer as the checked and double checked the scoring for Danes final run. I was lucky enough to be announcing the scores, and when I saw it pop up I couldn’t contain my excitement……. The world champion 2017 was my good friend QUIM!!!!!!! I screamed it down the mic so loud and with so much excitement that I was a horse by the end. Quim gave a roar of delight and then burst into tears as he realised he was the best in the world and his dream had come true. Many high fives and hugs later, Quim received his medal and the closing party was on! Everyone was celebrating a fantastic event that had ran as well as hoped. A live band played and people danced until the early hours.This must be one of the best freestyle competitions I have made it to so far. There were surprises, beer, medals, victories and many friends, old and new. But that was it, all that was left to do was pack up and make the 55 hour trip home!
See you in 2019 in Sort!