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Sam Sutton reclaims title as Extreme Kayak World Champion
Over 140 of the world’s best whitewater, slalom and freestyle paddlers from no less than 26 different countries met this weekend in the picturesque town of Oetz to compete for world championship honours on the legendary Wellerbrücke rapids, a section of the glacier-fed Ötztaler Ache River that is considered to be one of the most difficult whitewater sections on the planet.
The Wellerbrücke rapids are solid class 5 whitewater, both technically difficult and dangerous, so there are consequences to mistakes. Therefore the field of international kayakers was first filtered down in two qualification rounds to determine the 45 best paddlers that were to compete on the actual Wellerbrücke course, a section that is often referred to as the “Eiger Northwall” of whitewater kayaking. The Top 3 of the previous year – Sam Sutton (NZL), Michele Ramazza (ITA) and Lukas Kalkbrenner (GER) were automatically set for the finals, but still had to run the qualification to be seeded in heats for the knockout race format in the quarter and semi finals. In these rounds the fastest of the qualification competes against the 48th, the second fastest against the 47th and so on. The faster kayaker of each heat advances to the next round, together with two “lucky losers”, meaning the two fastest of the knocked out athletes.
Compared to the previous year, the water level at Wellerbrücke was higher, which made the spectacular whitewater racecourse even faster. Sutton’s 2010 course record of 58.85 seconds was already broken in the quarter final. 25-year old Russian Egor Voskoboynikov from Moscow, who surprisingly won the qualification, impressed the top kayakers from around world with the fastest race time (58.58) in that round.
But the new course record didn’t last long. In his semi final heat reigning World Champion Sam Sutton had to battle his younger brother Jamie, who not only looks like exactly him, but is a very strong paddler, too. Incited by the duel with his sibling, Sutton was fired up and gave it his all finishing his run in an incredible time of 56.41 seconds. That made him the pole-sitter for the final.
All of the Top 15 athletes from eleven different countries knew that if Sutton could repeat such a smooth “Sickline” in his final run, he would be unbeatable, despite the fact that several athletes clocked sub one minute this year.
Italy’s Michele Ramazza (26) from Bologna, who won the silver medal in 2010, was highly motivated to move one place up and finally claim the title. But after starting off very slick and smooth in the upper part of the course, he rolled after a slight mistake in the turbulent core section, which cost him his victory. Still, Ramazza had a great time, the clock stopped at 58.96. “I had a very good run apart from a little mistake that took my head under water, but I made a very good time so I’m happy”, he said afterwards. “The Sickline is one of the most important races at the moment, there are so many good athletes here and it’s a really great place where everyone can push their limits.”
24-year old German Slalom Champion 2010, Paul Böckelmann, who had placed ninth at the adidas Sickline Worlds last year, presented a powerful and nearly perfect final run. With a time of 58.03 he took the lead and could relax in the Hot Seat whirlpool next to Miss Tirol 2009, Christina Keil. Four runs later Böckelmann, who was born in Dresden, but lives and trains in Augsburg (Germany’s kayaking stronghold) had to make way for the new race leader.
Mike Dawson from New Zealand, who qualified for next year's London Olympics in canoe slalom three weeks ago, was three hundreds of a second faster (58,0). 2009 he won the silver medal at the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship. 2010 he was in the pole position after the semi finals, but screwed up at the so-called Champions Killer, the last 3 meter drop of the course, in his final and most important run. This year, however, Dawson had a solid run that put him in the leading position with just five kayakers to go. Four of them could not beat his time. “After getting blown out last year, I just wanted to have a good race today“, Dawson said in the hot seat whirlpool. „I think the rapid of the course earns a lot of respect and to hold a race of this calibre and these guys to be so close shows that the level of kayaking is stepping up every year, which is really sick.”
Finally all eyes were on Dawson’s compatriot, 23-year old Sam Sutton. Would he be able to defend his title? Or had he already used up his balance of perfect runs? The Kiwi had the fastest-ever time down the Wellerbrücke section in the semis. And in the final, too, Sutton was playing in another league, shooting down the rapids like a yellow torpedo. He had powerful start, was super smooth in the tumbling core section and nailed the Champions Killer perfectly to secure his second World Championship title in a row. With a lead of over two seconds on second place, Sam Sutton once again won the prestigious adidas Sickline Champions belt.
“The top seeded person has always felt a lot of pressure and they’ve had a really great run but they haven’t been able to put it back to back. Kind of, because it’s a lot of pressure. I just tried to forget about that and to do my own thing and I’m extremely happy with my final run. It’s all about just trying to stay consistent and smooth through the whole thing“, Sutton said after the awards.
This year’s adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship saw the strongest field in any extreme race and the results are a proof of the high performance level. Places 2 (58.0) to 8 (58.96) clocked all within one second.
[photo: manuel arnu]
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