Thoughts on Day One From Bratislava

Terry is part of the Deep Creek 2014 Delegation attending the 2011 Canoe Slalom World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. He is there with the folks from Maryland  and USA Canoe Kayak.  Today we have a guest blog from the executive director of USA Canoe Kayak, Joe Jacobi!

For the first time ever, the Canoe Slalom World Championships are being held in Slovakia. Coming off three Olympic Gold Medals in Beijing (out of a possible four,) the home team is anxious to set the tone for the next year’s Olympic Games in London.

Over 400 athletes from 49 countries will take to the man-made rapids of the whitewater channel in Cunovo, a small village on the outskirts of Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava. Many of the competitors have spent many weeks here learning every square inch of the river in hope of a podium finish.

What makes these World Championships particularly interesting though is that the event serves as the first opportunity to qualify start positions for the London Olympics. Factor in two days of postponed competition due to high winds and you have an anticipation level that is off the charts.

If you’re new to whitewater paddling, what you quickly notice is how adaptable and agile these top athletes are. The paddlers are negotiating a razor sharp “line” through the rapids in their kayak or canoe maneuvering around slalom poles suspended from wires over the river. If a wave breaks badly for you or the river surges in the wrong direction, you adjust, change and move forward all in a split second.

The other element you notice at the biggest events is the large groups of traveling fans. A huge contingent from Slovenia made the trip to Slovakia with whistles, rattlers, bells and horns in tow – the sound machine blasts as Slovenia’s top paddlers (and some of the country’s most respected athletes) pass by the crowd near the bottom of the course. They are particularly loyal to race favorite, Peter Kauzer, who gave Slovenia the gold medal in men’s kayak at the 2009 World Championships.

But it’s not just about the race this weekend. In the sea of World Championship “busy-ness,” a group of Italian coaches and officials pulled me aside into their circle and the conversation stopped. The leader put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and on behalf of Team Italy conveyed their respect for lives lost on September 11th. With the World Championships underway, Olympic start positions on the line and plenty of other things to be thinking about, a moment of humility, respect and clarity defines what I love most about our international community. Friendships transcend the competition and human spirit always wins.

I couldn’t be more excited about sharing this amazing sport and its people with my fellow Marylanders in just three short years.

Joe

*For more from Joe and what’s going in Bratislava, check out Joe on Twitter at @JoeJacobi.

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