K1 kayaking in action at Cardiff International White Water
This post first appeared on The Cardiffian, on March 27.
The International Sports Village in Cardiff Bay is well-known as the home of many sports in Cardiff. The Big Blue Tent of the Cardiff Bay Ice Arena has been home to Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey Club since 2006, while Cardiff International Pool features a 10-lane competition pool and space for over 1,000 spectators.
Both developments dwarf the skyline of the Bay, standing out for miles amid the lavish apartment blocks and gleaming glass skyscrapers which have sprung up along the waterside in recent years.
Less well known, but equally as impressive, is Cardiff International White Water – a state-of-the-art artificial white water canoeing circuit. It opened in 2010, and was the location for the British Canoe Union’s recent Premier Slalom event, which took place on March 24.
Saturday’s action saw the first leg of the three-part junior selection event for the British national team, where promising teenagers competed for the chance to represent their country. This was followed by a Premier Slalom meet, where elite athletes from the top division of British canoeing took to the water to try to qualify for the chance to represent Team GB in this summer’s London Olympics.
Two of Britain’s brightest medal hopes were both in action in Cardiff. David Florence, who won silver in the C1 slalom in Beijing in 2008 was competing in the C1 and C2 category, in which he races with partner Richard Hounslow.
David Florence at GBR Team Selection 2011 at Lee Valley White Water Centre (pic via david.ian.roberts)
Speaking of the Cardiff course, Florence said: “It’s a great venue, I really enjoy paddling there.
“It’s a lot smaller than Lee Valley, but it’s got the feel of a much bigger course, with a lot of good drops and rapids.
“The standard of competition in Cardiff was high, with top-flight premier athletes from all over the country competing for the chance of a coveted place in the Olympic squad.
“Hounslow, who races in the K1 as well as C2 with Florence, said: “At the moment the main focus is on selection, which is in three weeks’ time, but we still need to get there first. The race in Cardiff was my last preparation race.
“All the top people in the country were at the race in Cardiff this week so all the people who will be competing for Britain were there.
“Realistically you’re looking at only two or three categories that are in for a chance. If all things go to plan it is only between two or three people in each.”
Saturday’s event is also preparation for CIWW itself, which will host the first leg of the International Canoe Federation’s Canoe Slalom World Cup on June 8-10.
The World Cup takes place over a series of five races spread across different slalom courses around the world. The first heat takes place in Cardiff, before the action moves on to France, Spain, and the Czech Republic, before the final leg in Slovakia at the end of August.
CIWW is also open to the public, who can experience the sport themselves, or try a range of other white water activities, including rafting and river boarding – riding the rapids face down on a flat body board.
Many people in the sport are hoping the impact of the London Olympics will inspire a greater uptake in canoe slalom, and Richard is hopeful Cardiff will see the benefits of any Olympic success.
“Every four years at the Olympics the TV ratings are very good. It’s often up there in the top five along with the 100 metres, but outside of the Olympic years we get nothing. After this Olympics it will be really interesting to see what happens,” he said.
“Hopefully in the country the event will help the sport pick up a little bit.
“It would not only help the course in London but it will help the course in Cardiff as well, as people see the events taking place and think “I’d like to try that”, and of course as athletes we help by winning medals!
C2 canoeing in action
Canoe Slalom: The Basics
There are two distinct categories of canoeing: sprint, where athletes race in a straight line on smooth water, and slalom, which sees individual competitors complete a white water course.
Slalom courses require athletes to negotiate through a series of hanging gates, some of which must be crossed against the current.
Time penalties are applied for any gates which are missed, or if a competitor makes contact with a gate as they pass through it.
There are five distinct divisions in British canoe slalom, ranging from division four, to the premier league.
There is an important distinction between a canoe and a kayak. Canoes are knelt in, and steered with a single-bladed paddle, while kayak racers sit in their craft, and control it with a longer, double-bladed paddle.
Kayaks are always single-person crafts, but canoes can be doubled, where teams of two race a much larger craft with a single paddle each.
Single canoeing is known as C1, doubles are C2, and kayaks referred to as K1 in the sporting classification.
Men and women compete separately in C1 and K1 classes, but can race with and against each other in the C2.
Canoe slalom has been an Olympic sport for 20 years, and will take place this summer at a brand-new purpose-built course at Lee Valley, in Hertfordshire.