Previewing the 2014 ICF Junior & U23 World Championships Canoe Slalom
By Aaron Mann
The Penrith Whitewater Stadium, the venue of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, will play host to what will now be the third ICF Junior & U23 World Championships on April 23-27. The competition will feature over 300 athletes from 31 different countries.
This year's team features a mix of internationally experienced athletes, and new-comers looking to mark. First-year Junior Team member Tyler Smith (Charlotte, NC) says the realities of competing in his first major international race are now beginning to set in, "We have one short training session left and then nothing until race day. Though I'm a little nervous, I'm also very excited to represent the U.S. here in Australia and hopeful to place well in both the K1 and C1 events." Other Junior Team members making their international debut include K1W Teegan Johnson (Lyons, CO), K1M Jordan Sherman (Rockville, MD), and K1M Tyler Westfall (Darnestown, MD), while K1W Evelyn VanHorn (Bellefonte, PA), C1M/C2 William Coggan (Boulder, CO), and C1M/C2 Gabe Machado (Louisville, CO) will look to build on their previous results.
For grizzled veterans on the U23 Team athletes, these World Championships offer another opportunity for a top result. Zach "Bug" Lokken, continues his quest for a place on the podium in the C1M class after a 9th place finish at this event last season, as Tyler Hinton (Boulder, CO) looks to build off of his impressive early domestic results. In the K1M class, Simon Ranagan (Bethesda, MD) makes his return to the team after taking a year off and Michal Smolen (Gastonia, NC) will look to make his way back into the final while also racing C1.
Although many of these athletes have previously spent time paddling in Penrith, Smolen and Lokken came to Australia in February to gain more experience training and racing at this venue, experience which National Team Coach Rafal Smolen believes will prove to be invaluable; "If we look at the athletes that will compete here in U23 categories, we will see medalists and finalists from [Senior] World Championships and the [London] Olympics. Many of these athletes have spent a lot of time training here, whether it was winter training in the past or direct preparation for this event. I think that the February training camp gave us enough time on this course to challenge the best."
More information on the competition, including the race schedule and results, can be found from the links listed below:
Q&A with National Team Coach Rafal Smolen
Q: How are the first-time or less seasoned athletes doing training for their first major international competition?
A: It is always a challenge for young athletes to go to a new courses and try to learn as much as possible before the race starts. That's why we came to Penrith quite early to give these athletes opportunity to get familiar with the course and its features. For many of our young team members it also is the first major international competition and it can be quite intimidating to deal with so many people on the course and around. Being here early allows them to get used to the new crowd, new faces and by the time the race starts to feel much more comfortable than at the beginning of the camp
Q: What type of challenges does such a big event (in terms of number of competitors) and the extended schedule present for the athletes and you as a coach?
A: Last U23 and Junior Worlds in Liptovsky Mikulas [Slovakia] had over 500 competitors. These Worlds will have around 300. It seems that it is going to be much easier on everyone here, especially support staff. The big difference here will be coordinating logistics. Over five days of racing, with different athletes competing at different times, it is always a challenge to get everyone where they need to be at the right time, especially here where we are staying around 5 miles away from the venue (in Liptovsky Mikulas everything was walking distance).
"After spending a total of six weeks in Australia this winter, I feel very well prepared for this competition. Last year, at this same competition, I went home after being eliminated in the semi-final round. Disatisfied, I chose to make some changes to both my approach and attitude for these high pressure international competitions. These changes will to the test this week, but the ultimate goal for me is still to perform my best and enjoy myself on the water." - Michal Smolen
"I was here in February, so I am very excited for this event! For a change, there are more U23 C1M than there are U23 K1 competing, which in my mind means there will be some good competition in the field. All in all, I feel confident, not only in my individual race but also in my C1M team race with Tyler [Hinton] and Michal [Smolen]. Oh yeah, and I like turtles!" - Zach "Bug" Lokken
"I've really enjoyed paddling on this course. Although some sections can be quite demanding, it is a lot of fun. Of course I'm very nervous [for the competition], but equally excited to race and cheer on my teammates." - Simon Ranagan
"Going into the races I am feeling strong, I have been training differently than I have in years past and hoping that the result will show the change in training. I love the course here it is really fun and fast it should be a really good race." - Tyler Hinton
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