Forget slalom and sprint at this year’s Olympics…after the final day of this year’s 2021 ICF junior and U23 canoe slalom world championships in Slovenia, it was Switzerland who stole the show, paddling away with two gold medals and a silver medal—ahead of the sport’s debut at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Credit it to the Swiss cheese effect—only this time it was their ability to avoid holes. The success earned the Swiss a position as one of the top nations in the burgeoning sport, joining Great Britain, the US and Czech Republic who have all won gold medals in the finals. The Swiss dominated the podium in the men’s U23 extreme slalom with Dimitri Marx taking gold for the second time since his win in Italy in 2018, and teammate Jan Rohrer finishing with the silver medal.
“I think the Swiss have a bit of a different background to most other slalom paddlers, we all start as freestyle or whitewater paddling, and then later move to slalom,” says Marx.
The women’s junior extreme slalom also saw a Swiss winner in the finals as Jessica Duc was said to have capitalized on a ‘collision between the leading two paddlers, Russia’s Marina Novysh and Czech Tereza Kneblova, to squeeze through from third into first place’.
“I was surprised to be first, I was just happy to be in the final, so to be first was incredible,” Duc says. “I saw I got a chance to get in front, and I was very shocked to get there. This is my first world championships, but I wasn’t too worried. I have to train hard if I want a chance to progress more.”
The race hosted Great Britain’s extreme slalom rookie Nikita Setchell, who won gold in the women’s U23 final as well as American teenager Kaelin Friedenson who competed in the junior race and won gold. The win for Friedenson was a different result than his last international race when he lost his paddle and to finish with is arms.
“It helps a lot to keep hold of your paddle,” Friedenson said. “I’m so excited to win, I can’t believe it. I’m definitely not the strongest paddler, but I still like attacking it.
Czech paddler Martin Rudorfer’s silver medal helped the nation take first in the ICF Nations Cup on 395 points, beating France on 368 point and Slovakia on 230. The next Extreme Canoe Slalom race on every paddler’s mind is the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Extreme Slalom in a Nutshell
Extreme slalom first appeared on the ICF’s World Cup program in 2015, and since then the growth has been phenomenal.
Athlete numbers have been increasing every season, more and more tv networks are showing the races live, and there’s plenty of enthusiasm for the sport to one day be part of the Olympic program.
Extreme slalom is a combination of all canoeing’s white water disciplines, with competitors racing in identical plastic creek boats.
The excitement begins from the very start, with four competitors sliding off a ramp more than two metres above the water and splashing onto the course as one.
From there it’s a race to the first buoy, and it really is a case of anything goes as each paddler tries to steal an advantage over their opponents.
Athletes need to negotiate both downstream and upstream buoys, and contact is allowed – adding to the thrills and spills and excitement for spectators and athletes alike.
Then there’s the compulsory eskimo roll. Athletes only have a short window of opportunity to successfully roll their kayaks, and they need to do a complete 360 degree flip.
There are a variety of ways to get disqualified – breaking the start, missing a buoy, dangerous paddling, and failing to complete the eskimo roll within the allocated area.
Most races are over in around a minute, but times are not important. Extreme slalom is very much a race of tactics, and often it does not pay to lead early. Athletes also have choices to make, including which side of the course they should take.
The current men’s world champion is Germany’s Stefan Hengst, while Czech Veronika Vojtova won the women’s crown in front of her home crowd in Prague.
One of the major attractions of extreme slalom is the diversity of countries taking part. Athletes from regions where canoe slalom is still in its infancy are embracing extreme events.
—By Izzy Rillos