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2012 Nationals - Highlights and Fun Facts

by Denny Adams, Events and Programs Chair

May 29, 2012 -- Jackson, WY

(The Wildwater National Championships were held this past Memorial Day weekend on the Hoback River near Jackson, Wyoming. The class winners are listed separately and there will be links to the results and to the photos. As at any race there was often more to share about our races and our racers than simple numbers, titles, or even photos can tell. That was the case at these races too as our championships offered spectators and participants several closely fought battles and had some very strong race performances that deserve mention. The following piece is an attempt to catch some of the smaller stories that are missed by a simpler and shorter account. My main regret with this piece is not being on top of every racer and every class. My apologies for that shortcoming. While too long for some, too short for others, these are the notes I took from this past weekend.)

The men's K-1 events were primarily a battle of two contrasting paddlers (old mature, wise, and fit; young, bright, and fit) racing in identical boats—red to orange to yellow Zastera Dymanics, both purchased at the same time in 2006. In the sprint, veteran Doug Richie from Seattle, Washington and the Northwest Whitewater Club edged 19 year old Victor den Haan of Holland and the Great Blue Heron Canoe and Kayak Club by less than two seconds over the combined two runs. Less than a single percentage point separated their sprint runs. A similarly close race was anticipated and hoped for between these two in the classic but didn't pan out. While waiting at the finish, looking at the watch to check the split between their finishes, we suddenly had both "twin" boats there at the same time battling it out though their start times were a minute apart. Doug (who started a minute back) closing in with a maniac final sprint on an equally intense but very frustrated Victor at the finish line -- two contrasting racers having very contrasting races but sharing a single quality of going all out to get their best time.

Dropping flow levels in the (natural flow) river over the last few days had changed the classic course. Lower water is shallower water and rocks were hit. "Dennis, I wrecked your boat" Victor says while panting with dripping wet shorts. That was the main concern, a crunched, but fixable boat. Despite the adversity, Victor managed to hold on to place a close third behind Aaron Pruzan in the classic with his classic time still being good enough for him to earn a fairly strong second place behind Doug in the Combined (sprint and classic) with Aaron placing third. The lessons to share from the race are obvious. Doug's hard off season training spoke for itself. It was the extra time spent on the course during the week before and on the morning of the classic that paid off in terms of having a preparation edge over his younger competitor. Victor's persistence likewise served as a good teacher for the younger racers as it salvaged his race weekend. In broader terms, this was a battle of two winners. It is also why the ICF is beginning to recognize our under 23 yr old racers now with their own class as they did recently with the relatively new masters class. It was great however at this race seeing the two contrasting racers compete.

Some Fun Facts for the guy kayakers is that the first six racers in the men's K-1 sprint finished within five or six percent of the top time in what was our deepest and most consistently skilled class. More telling was the fact that of the six top finishers, four were not mainstream USA Wildwater event participants—a fact that we need to fix. We had three masters in the K-1, one of which was the open class winner—Doug Richie. We had three K-1 Juniors racing and only one, 11 year old Henry Hyde, had ever raced wildwater Kayak before these races. The C-1 races were even closer. In C-1 M, we had another battle of identical boats, at least in model. Both were racing top lay-up Bala's. In the Sprint race new American citizen Peter Pabzan; formerly of Slovakia—now living in Golden, Colorado and racing a Dawson School Canoe; edged out American C-1 mainstay Tom Weir of Seattle and the NW River Racers by less than two seconds. This race was like Doug and Victor's in being won by less than a percentage point in the combined sprint times. Unlike in K-1, the tight battle between Peter and Tom continued through the Classic Race where Tom finished first. This time it was closer, by less than three seconds, by two tenths of one percent over Peter's time in a 23 minute race. Their three runs combined had a total separation of less than five seconds with Peter winning the Combined C-1 Men's by less than very squeaky seven tenths of one percent.

A fun fact for the C-1 M class was the Dawson School link that Peter and Tom share. Tom raced for Nate Lord's then fledgling program in the early 1990s. Peter found Nate's program as an adult volunteer this May through Jeremy Rogers and has been attending our Colorado Cup races (a program that Nate started) and freely helping out not just the Dawson Athletes but anyone who is interested in C-1 or C-2, or who needs help or someone to train with on the river. That quality is another that Peter shares with Tom.

An even closer C-1 sprint battle took place between Masters Class C-1 M racer Tom Popp of Team Popp (duh) and C-1 W Racer Laura Adams of Nawlins (SIC) and the Great Blue Herons. To keep it fair both Tom and Laura were racing in vintage Tip Tops and amazingly both finished their combined sprint runs with times that were identical down to the hundredth of a second.

A Fun Fact from this battle is that Tom was a Jr. Team manager (with Chris Osment) at the 2009 Jr. Worlds where Laura raced kayak with Tom's daughter Haley. Both Haley and Laura are in college and both now row for their respective college programs. A second Fun Fact to file somewhere is that rowing has proven to be a great conditioner for canoeing as Laura raced her best C-1 ever this week despite her three year lay-off from paddling. Even more fun and encouraging is the news that Tom's youngest daughter Selena is hoping to race C-1 W next season giving our program its third C-1W athlete.

The third warmly contested class was the K-1W masters class where Jennie Goldberg of Seattle and the Northwest Whitewater Club battled with Alena Sumner, formerly a Czech Jr. Program Coach and now a US Citizen living in the San Francisco Bay area. They were a percentage point apart in the classic race and three percentage points apart in the sprints.

The Fun Fact for this class was stolen from the top finishers by the third place finisher Laurie Thal of the Jackson Wyoming area and the Jackson Hole Kayak Club. Laurie had just returned from paddling the Grand Canyon which she did in great style-- only to take a swim in the Classic Race being held on her class II + home river. Laurie was in contention just five percent off of Jenny after the sprint and while finishing well back after her bath she was able to recover and finish her classic run.

Fun Math Facts—Fruit Salad Math:

Several of our race performances are very worthy of elaborating on for their "percentage over " the fastest race time for all classes --the K-1 Men's times of Doug Richie in this case. In each class other than in Men's K-1 there is a percentage over handicap. These have no bearing on the race results or awards but they do provide a means for competitors in different race classes to compare their performances. That need may seem silly but for racers that spends hundreds of hours training and hundreds if not thousands of dollars getting to a championships only to find themselves alone in their race class at the starting line this comparison makes sense. Sure its comparing apples, oranges and banana and yes the handicaps are a little too bit rounded out to multiples of five and ten to be completely based on statistics. I've actually plugged in real race times from international races and from local races to test the real world validity of the handicaps. They are usually fairly valid. The elite level races tend to have better numbers and they break down at times when there is a diverse race field with a wide spread of times to average. For all of their imperfections, "percentage over" stats can be fun and they often tell a deserving story which results alone often fail to tell.

On average the top women's times are about ten percent slower than the men's in the same boat. When that statistical relationship is accepted it is easy to see how a ten percent slower time for a K-1W racer is considered to be roughly the equivalent of the top Men's kayak time. It goes to say that a time that is faster than that 10% handicap is making a very positive statement about that woman racers comparative speed. Men's C-2 has likewise has a handicap of ten percent over (as in slower than) the top Men's K-1 time. In this case, all three racers are men but a C-2 is considered to be a slower boat by about ten percent. Men's C-1 handicap is fifteen percent slower than the top K-1 time-- again based upon the C-1 being a slower boat, even slower than a C-2. The largest handicap in whitewater racing is in new class of women's C-1. It has a twenty five percent handicap over the top K-1 M time---ten percent because the racer is female, fifteen percent because they are paddling a C-1. Added together they total twenty five percent. While this double handicap system works for most it has been noticed that the C-1 class in actual practice tends to have even slower times than even this handicap allows for.

Fruit Salad Champs:

Based on beating the percentage over handicaps we had two boats whose times were relatively sizzling. Peter Kabzan's and Tom Weir's times were consistently three and four percentage points under their class handicap arguably giving them the races most legitimate comparative times. In C-1 W, Laura Adams beat her class handicap by 1.43 percent. In the C-2 sprint Colton and Bryson Popp of Team Popp (double duh) beat theirs by 1.13 percent. Other racers that did well by coming close to beating the handicap include K-1 W Haley Popp (team Popp) (duh) and C-1 Jr Will Coggans (Dawson Canoe & Kayak) . The percentage over numbers for these Nationals clearly showed the improving quality of our canoe classes which had five of its seven boats perform comparably to the top kayaks. It also showed that our under 23 class racers did well in this race.

Junior Class Tidbits –Going Beyond Fruit Salad and Math

Completely off of the charts in terms of being able to be compared by fruit salad math were our junior racers. Our youngest at the races this year was eleven and a half year old Henry Hyde who was racing wildwater for the Great Blue Herons. His times were not there with Doug's and "big brother" Vic's, but considering that his boat was half his weight and over three times his height he did darn well. While there was no official Cub Cadet or even a Cadet Class it is easy award unofficial titles.—Good job Henry! Another small body in a huge boat (a Prijon "Beluga") was first time wildwater K-1 W racer Brook Terkovich, Jackson Hole Kayak Club. Fifteen year old Brook's debut wildwater races took place in just her third time in a long boat. Good job Brook! Another very promising would be if…" type athlete was Brook's JHKC teammate Peter Neal. Peter performed well in vintage glass (an older Phoenix type boat) and had a very respectable time for his experience level. A modern boat, some training and I can see him doing very as well. Good job Peter!

On a different branch of the Jr. Development food chain were our two C-1 juniors. Just two months ago Ethan Putnam was getting into a wildwater C-1 for the first time. There he faced intense sun and heat, mud showers, and even some hurricane force winds as he worked hard to stay up and carve circles in a muddy eddy for five straight days. This past week he was a different boater and looked good on this course, paddle in motion. Good job Ethan! (We can talk about your kayak run privately.) Will Coggans is a C-2 racer with Jr. Worlds Experience who broadened his canoe skills by paddling C-1 at these races. As noted above his times were close to his percentage over handicap which is a big time accomplishment. Good job Will!

More fun facts:

Of the 23 racers at these races, 8 were from the Jackson Hole area. Along with having several credible performances in the K-1 men's open class and having most of the K-1 M masters class, the locals also had the top placing K-1 and K-1 W juniors at the races. Will Coggans had a great race week. After qualifying for the US Jr Slalom Team in Wausau, Wisconsin the weekend before our event, Will returned to school to take his finals. On Thursday, the day before our sprint races, Will was making up an AP Exam before flying with his father Pete to make it to Jackson Hole the night before the races. When he gets back home he will be training for the Jr World Slalom Championships in Wausau and hopefully for FIBArk and next year's Jr. Wildwater Worlds too. Will and Dawson School teammate Ethan Putnam were two junior wildwater racers, out of the 12 we have in Colorado, who were able to make it to our races. Both have very dedicated and loving dads who got them to our event. John Putnam helped with the timing, Pete Coggans donated his professional quality photography.

Laura Adams won her second set of C-1 W class Wildwater National Titles. The only other person to ever win this class in recent US wildwater history was her older sister Lisa who did so at last year's Nationals. In their ten years of racing, the sisters have yet to face each other in a C-1 W wildwater race.

Kudos go to Team Popp both for an outstanding team performance at the Nationals and as well for being the racers that came from farthest distance away to attend our races. More importantly, this family team has been consistent in its support of and its contributions to our sport at all levels since 2009. They also have the snazziest team apparel of any of the five clubs or teams that were represented at these Nationals. Similarly we have enjoyed having Tom, Doug, and Jennie from the Northwest Whitewater Club supporting our events for at least as long as the almost ten years now that I have been around the sport. Both groups provide a generous and positive character and as well they provide a much needed sense of stability for our National Events.

Traveling the furthest from the west was Alena Sumners from northern California. Actually that trip for Alena was relatively short. Like Peter Pabzan, Alena is originally from Slovakia. Along with Victor den Haan from the Nederlands, we had three European trained racers at these races. Just as having American trained basketball players playing in Europe has improved their basketball, having European trained wildwater racers paddling in the US will improve ours. This is as true for their generous character and sense of cross-culture that they offer as it is for the different ways they allow us to think about racing and technique.

The Jackson Nationals were relatively small for a major race. What it lacked in size was made up for in character and quality. These races were significant for being in a new venue for us in a region which had only one racer, race organizer Aaron Pruzan, who had been to our wildwater events. Aaron stepped forward in a year when few others wanted this event and provided us with an amazing set of races. My strong hopes are that this is not the last Nationals to be held in Jackson and in the future they include not just a greater number of regional racers but that more racers from the east are able to discover how neat this venue is. I am likewise hopeful that the great racers that we met this past weekend from the JHKC are able to make it to other USA Wildwater events.


(Come back to this page for more links about the Nationals)