Call it Cool Paddling. In the 1993 movie “Cool Running,” a group of Jamaicans created history by qualifying for the bobsled competition at the Winter Olympics. At this year’s World Slalom Championships in Tacen, Slovenia, another Jamaican, 16-year-old Solomon Maragh, created a similar stir in slalom.
Achieving something no other Jamaican has ever done before, Maragh successful contested the junior kayak qualifiers at the ICF junior and U23 canoe slalom world championships on one of the most challenging courses in the world, Tacen in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
The teenager got two runs on the Tacen course. He didn’t qualify for the semi-finals in his boat, but, like his bobsled counterparts, that hardly seemed important given everything else he had achieved just by getting on the water.
“I feel really proud to have represented my country, and I’ve done the best that I can do for a developing nation,” Maragh says. “I feel I have the responsibility now to set the standard for other Jamaican athletes within canoe slalom when opportunities come along.”
Maragh was born and grew up in north England, but has a large family back in Jamaica, from where his grandparents came to the United Kingdom as part of the Windrush generation.
“All of my family in Jamaica have sent me good luck wishes, and they all watched,” he says. “With the time difference it was the middle of the night for them to stay up and watch me.”
Maragh was taught the basics of paddling by his parents at the whitewater center in Nottingham, where next year’s ICF canoe freestyle world championships will be held. He decided to switch from wildwater to slalom paddling, and now has his sights set on one day representing Jamaica at the Olympics—not Tokyo this year, but hopefully some day soon.
“My end goal is to win an Olympic medal,” he says. “Now I’m just starting off, getting used to the international stage, getting ready for more races. I want to set a standard for all Jamaican athletes for the future.”
His efforts in Tacen are sure to inspire others in Jamaica to give canoe slalom a go, but that might be the least of the challenges as potential canoe slalom athletes in the country face many difficulties. Finding somewhere for the athletes to ply their trade is the biggest issue. There’s plenty of water around, but most isn’t suitable for whitewater paddling.
“The rivers there are either too high or too low, and in Jamaica a lot of people use the river facilities, so you can’t really do it there,” Maragh says. “But we’re looking into it.”
(Photo/story courtesy ICF)