May 13, 2007

World Championships 2007

I have just returned from my holiday to Canada for the 2007 World Freestyle Kayaking Championships. It turned out not to be much of a holiday at all! After a few days chilling out at Wilderness Tours, enjoying the delights of the Ottawa Valley again (Tim Horton's and 17 West's breakfasts..) I received a message that I had been voted to be Chief Judge of the event by International Canoe Federation freestyle committee. Originally, I had been sent out there as a judge for Team GB so this was quite an upgrade for me. Little did I know what was in store!

The first few days were spent making sure we had everything covered, which Matt 'Sharky' McGuire, the event organiser, usually did. Then the water level issue took over. It was promised that there would be a training week on the Buseater wave, however there was only a 80% chance that this would happen. Due to the low snow fall over the winter, we were in the 20% no chance. This led to some very angst filled paddlers and some heated team captain's meetings. The anticipation for this wave was immense. Many paddlers left the Ottawa River in search of wave to train on, going to places such as the Chambly wave near Montreal and 'Inner City Strife' on the Black River in upstate New York. Thankfully, we received the necessary information from the dam people just in time to confirm that the event would be on 'mini bus', much to the relief of everyone who had been training on 'Waikiki' and 'Big Smoothie'.

From the moment it was official to the time the horn went for the final ride, I don't think I ever got a break from my 'job'. However, I thrived on this and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Despite saying I was retiring from judging, I think I would do it all over again. I have some strangely passion for judging and am always willing to help to make sure things get done in the best way for the paddlers.

Although I enjoyed being chief judge, it was certainly one of the most stressful experiences I have had. Initially I received negativity about my position due to my age and 'lack of experience'. I accepted this would happen as I realised that many people state-side did not know me, or know me as a judge. However, I would not have taken the task on if I did not think I was up to it. As for experience, I had plenty from UK and European events as well the last World Champs in Australia. Also, previous chiefs had been training me up, so with their support I felt confident. I don't believe my age was an issue, I know it was fairly shocking for some when they met me (I do look younger than my 21 years) to discover what my role was, but I think it would have been unfair to judge me on my age over my experience and ability. I had some big shoes to fill, as Shane Benedict (twice chief judge of the event) was meant to be coming to over see the event. I was honoured that I was looked to next but acutely aware of what I had to do and what I had to live up to.

For me, the most important thing was providing the best possible event for the paddlers. We had to work with the rules published to ensure we were able to reward the best competitors and at the end of the day have the best paddler win. It is a difficult situation at the moment with varying rules and with the differing opinions from each country. What we needed was a balance. I feel that this was achieved as much as possible. It was disappointing to have such a low turn out of judges, especially from such prominent countries, however the nature of the sport is that it is nearly unheard of to have someone volunteering their time who isn't there for another purpose. I hope that in the future it will be possible to have judges who are not team captains/paddlers/coaches. For now, people with associations are the only choice. However I believe this does not affect the judging. From the moment they step into the hut or tent, they leave their personal preference behind. Anyone who cares enough to be in there, cares enough about paddling to ensure a fair event.

After the preliminary rounds, there was much talk of 'strict' judging and this was mostly blamed on the European judges. In general, they are tighter on giving a move, however, I don't think this was the cause of 'low scores'. The position we were in, in the judge hut, was much higher than most people were watching from. The angle for us meant we were seeing things differently and therefore judging differently to what was maybe expected. Whatever it was that was seen, the judges were consistent.

I thought the event was awesome and in the end it all came together. Mostly thanks to the efforts of Sharky and all those at Wilderness Tours. I'd personally like to thank them, and all the judges and scribes. Also, I'd like to thank all the paddlers. I really appreciated your kind words and support, it is your thanks that meant the most to me.

Check out for results
And for pictures
Thanks to Lara Grant for the picture of me




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