For the fifth year the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship took place in Austria’s Ötztal valley, luring 150 of the world’s best kayakers from 26 countries to the Tyrol region to compete on the legendary Class V Wellerbrücke rapids. And once again it was a Kiwi contingent on the podium with New Zealand’s Sam Sutton in the driver’s seat.
Despite flooding the week before the water level was perfect during the race. The race kicked of on Friday with a 75-second qualifier round culling the 150 racers down to 48 men and three women after two runs. How tough was it? 2011 medalist Michelle Ramazza got knocked out of the finals.
The Sickline race uses a unique format not found in any other kayak event. After the qualifier there is a heat-to-heat on time, with the fastest racing the slowest, using the international ladder system. This cuts the field down to the top 15 for the super final down the Class V Wellerbrucke rapids.
It’s here where Sutton shined, taking the top spot three times in a row, narrowly out-dueling Slovenia’s Dejan Kralj in 0.56.92, Kralj, who had finished fourth three times before finally making the podium, took second just behind at 0.57.81. “It’s very difficult to get on the podium,” he says. “All it takes to miss it is the slightest mistake.” That’s exactly what befell fellow Kiwi Mike Dawson, who, after a time-eating mistake at the bottom at Champions Killer, settled for third in 0.58.38.
Despite Nick Troutman, and Eric and Dane Jackson trekking over to compete, the best U.S. finish was Isaac Levinson who took 10th.
“I consider the hardest creek race ever due to combination of the short and technical course, and the extremely stiff field of paddlers,” says Troutman, who paddled a new Jackson Zen. “The competition gets harder every year. More top racers show up, and more people come weeks ahead to train. I don’t think anyone trained any harder than Dane, who had done every line possible about 100 times.”
As for what happened to Troutman and company, he says it was mistakes at the bottom and aptly named “Champion’s Killer,” the final drop of the minute-long course. “The slightest mistake, boof stroke too early or too late, land pointing left or right, and the race is lost,” says Troutman. “Anything besides the perfect line means your race is lost. That’s where all three of us lost. And it’s the same mistake I made three years prior, and had dialed in and made over and over.”
Sutton, meanwhile, nailed that and every other move on the course, winning both the race and the coveted seat in the hot tub with Miss Tyrol. “It has been an awesome year and I am glad to finish the season becoming World Champion,” says Sutton.