While some sectors of competitive paddlesports seem to be shrinking, at least one is emerging. As of early December, it’s official: after appearing as a demo event at the world championships in Spain this summer, C-1 W, or women’s C-1, will be in the World Championships.
With the recent ICF ruling, Women’s C1 individual and team events are now added to the World Championships as full medal status, for both the junior and senior classes. And this bodes well for a U.S. team budding with ability.
“We have three to four C1 women who are capable of competing at the World Cup and World Championships competitions,” says U.S. head slalom coach Silvan Poberaj. “At the 2009 Worlds in Spain, they finished just outside the top 10. With a little more luck one of them could break that mark.”
One paddler Poberaj calls out in particular is 15-year-old Haley Thompson. “She already has very good technique and she shows great potential,” he says. “I believe she could be the best US C-1W for many years.”
He adds, however, that the next world championships course in Tacen, Solvenia, will be hard for the C-1 women because of its power. “Surprises can happen there,” he says. “Realistically our C-1W rank is probably somewhere between fifth and 20th place in the world right now.”
One club looking to change that is the Red River Racing School on the San Marcos River in Texas. “We have about 12 people coming out throughout the winter to train slalom, six of whom are really serious,” says the club’s coach, and U.S. Team competitor, Michelle Kvanli. “Chelsea Borneman, at age 12, is probably one of the most fearless paddlers on the whole team.
“We’re also starting to train a lot more C-1 women paddlers,” she adds. “It’s been a long time coming. These girls deserve the chance to compete and be recognized. It’s been hard to see them not get to fulfill their dreams.”
She adds that Carolyn Peterson. Who won first place at the 2009 Team Trials in Durango, Colo., and Rebecca Moore, who raced at both the U.S. Junior Trials and in the Junior Olympics, are Red River racers who are viable contenders.
“The U.S. women have future medal capacity,” says Pam Boteler,
president of USA WomenCAN (www.justcanoeit.com). “Talented athletes are out there thirsty for opportunities.”
Cases in point come in women’s flatwater events (Sprint included C1 W 200 as a full medal event at the 2010 Worlds and is keeping C2 500 as exhibition): Hannah Menke won two silver medals at the 2009 World Championships in C1 500 and C1 200 exhibition events; and Anna Crawford and Boteler finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in C2 500 and 200m. In slalom, U.S. women finished 11th, 13th and 14th at the demo event in Spain.
“Playwright Frances Hodgson Burnett once said, ‘At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done – then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago,'” Boteler adds. “Adding women’s canoe is not only the smart thing to do – it is the right thing to do. We will “Realize the Dream – 2016″ for full Olympic inclusion.”
“It is impressive that the Olympic movement is seeking gender equity, and that in turn is re-balancing the participation in many sports,” adds former world champion slalom paddler and Olympic announcer Kent Ford. “At the recent World Championships, one of the coaches said that a side benefit had been a much healthier/more balanced team dynamic. Rather than being dominated by testosterone, now their team was doing more towards building a supportive social atmosphere – which he figured would help performance in the long run.”
As for how the sport’s governing body in the U.S. feels about it, it’s a category whose time has come. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to see women canoeists of USA Canoe/Kayak representing their country and sport as full and equal participants at the 2010 World Championships,” says USACK acting executive director Joe Jacobi. “But there’s still more work to do, including increased opportunities on even bigger stages like the Olympic Games.”