Phelps, schmelps. World Freestyle Kayak Championships? Even that’s small fry compared to the stage the sport played out on in August. Yep, at this year’s London 2012 Olympic Games, freestyle kayaking made its biggest appearance ever when six athletes from five continents were chosen to present freestyle kayaking to the Olympics…
Among the chosen few were hometown hero James Bebbington of Great Britain, fellow countryperson Claire O’hara, Motoko Ishida from Japan, Juma Kilakwani from the big water of Uganda, Dane Jackson from the USA and Courtney Kerin of New Zealand.
In all, the freestylers made four appearances on the course, between the preliminary rounds, the semis and the finals. And during each one they got the features moer and more dialed.
“Showing freestyle kayaking at the Olympics was unreal for me,” says Jackson. “I’m stoked to have had the opportunity to do it. Everyday always had more people than the day before, and the crowd was amazed at what we could do since they had never seen anything like it. The features weren’t the easiest, but they were fun and good enough to do just about every trick and go big.”
Perhaps no one’s eyes were bigger than those of Kiwi Courtney Kerin. “The water was warm and the features proved better than they looked,” says Kerin, adding that although the features were shallow they were retentive and still conducive to great tricks. “It was an absolutely incredible experience.”
Even more incredible, she adds, was receiving VIP tickets to the opening ceremony in “some of the best seats in the stadium.”
As for the throw-downs, the biggest and best came between the finals, when the crowds were largest – perhaps the biggest gathering to see freestyle anywhere.
“On the last day the stands were packed and the crowd was raging,” says Kerin. “It was incredible to perform in front of such an enormous crowd that was so fired up in seeing our sport and got right behind us, cheering us on the whole time. I believe we did a great job of introducing the sport of freestyle to a whole new audience.”
And the debut was important for freestyle. “Showcasing the ‘newcomer’ was important for illustrating both the expertise of these world class paddlers, and the ‘joie de vivre’ that sets freestyle apart from other paddling disciplines,” says USFKA head Risa Shimoda. “Creating this focus on a ‘not yet Olympic’ event in London was a true testament to the dedication of Lluis Rabenedas International Freestyle Committee Chair, his committee, and all those who call freestyle ‘their sport,’ for they have collectively driven competitive quality ever higher, and our dot on the world’s radar a bit brighter.”
In return for their performance (as if tickets to the opening ceremonies weren’t enough), the paddlers were presented with gold medals showcasing the Olympic rings as a memorial.