While the world waits for the London Games to begin, a host of Juniors strutted their slalom stuff at the U-23 Canoe Slalom World Championships in the good ol’ USA in Wausau, Wis.
In all, the event drew more than 300 young athletes from 27 nations, including three 2012 Olympians, to test themselves against the world’s best.
The highlight for the U.S. was Rick Powell, who progressed through the qualifications to survive the cut from 40 paddlers to 10 in the semi-finals, and then landed himself in a new position in his young international racing career – on the podium, with a World Championship Bronze Medal. Powell’s training partner Michal Smolen, after paddling into first and second positions through the qualifications and semi-finals, ended up in 5th place.
“Rick may not have been most people’s front runner for a Worlds medal, but our National Team Coach raised the standard for an entire group, not just one person,” says USACK executive director Joe Jacobi. “A third and fifth place finish from the same training group at a World Championships is a promising development for USA Canoe/Kayak. Rick’s medal is not only a story of perseverance, but also a testament to his training group’s willingness to thoroughly prepare for international competition. It was a very good day for the program.”
Powell, a 2008 Olympian for the U.S. iin doubles canoe, ranked 26th after Wednesday’s heats and leaped to 4th place in Friday’s semifinal. His penalty-free final round time of 107.01 was +4.59 seconds behind the first place finisher, Jiri Prskavec of Czech Republic. “I had a faster run but I didn’t feel as good,” he says. “I don’t know what the difference was — I think the gates were a bit higher but I still paddled well, so I think that’s what clinched it for me.”
“I came 4th in semis, so I figured I had a good chance to medal,” he adds. “But you never know what’s going to happen and I was still very nervous.”
“My mom and dad were here, my parents were here, which is good enough for me. My parents they have been helping me since I was a little kid.”
Both Powell and Smolen competed for the U.S. Senior National Team on the 2012 World Cup circuit and should be Team USA fixtures for years to come, adds Jacobi. “They should push each other for top billing all the way until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games,” he says.
Also among the U.S. list of competitors was Caroline Queen of Darnestown, Md., who will represent the U.S. in London in women’s K1. Queen placed 9th in the U23 Women’s K1 Final after incurring a two-second touch penalty on a gate touch en route to a time of 135.51, +18.40 seconds back from the first-place finisher Katerina Kudejova of Czech Republic.
“I’m happy to have made the final and gained some good experience,” she says. “The mistake on the run came as a result of taking a risk to be faster. But that’s racing.”
“My big mistake was I went for a direct in gate 10 which I did not do in the semi-final, but I figured it’s the final,” adds Queen, who flew to London immediately after the event to prepare for the Olympics. “The gate itself was not bad but it made me late for another gate.”
The weekend of racing concluded with the team events, where the U.S. placed 6th in Junior Men’s C1 and 9th in Junior Women’s K1. In U23 Women’s C1 Final, Micki Reeves (Denver, Colo.) finished 6th with a time of 174.78, including six penalty seconds.
In other news, 18yr old Jessica Fox of Australia won her third gold medal of the Championships, retaining the Junior Women’s K1 World Champion title she had won in Foix, France at the 2010 Junior Championships. Her gold in K1 matches her gold in the Junior Women’s C1 event and another one in the U23 Women’s C1 Team event. Winning three gold medals makes Fox the most successful paddler at the Championships.