Spanish Kayaker Dethrones Brother
Pics Jens Klatt
After a weekend of intense racing on the legendary Wellerbrücke rapids in Austria’s Ötztal valley, 25-year old Aniol Serrasolses from Bescano in Spain and 26-year old Sandra Hyslop from Loughborough, Great Britain claimed their first adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Champion title, ahead of Sam Sutton (NZL) and Nouria Newman (FRA) taking silver and Dane Jackson (USA) and Martina Wegman (NED) winning bronze.
The beautiful Ötztal valley in the heart of the Austrian Alps welcomed the World’s best kayakers in October 2016 for the 9th running of the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship. The longest valley in the Austrian region of Tirol, the Ötztal (or more specifically the mountain village of Oetz) is home to the legendary Wellerbrücke falls, where 175 athletes from 29 Countries battled to take the Sickline title.
The adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship is truly unique and brings together athletes from all the individual kayaking disciplines (freestyle, expedition, extreme, slalom etc.) to compete against one another on a World class stretch of whitewater. 2009 World Freestyle Kayak Champion Nick Troutman (CAN) described Sickline as, “just an incredible event - you're in this amazing little mountain town, wedged between these 2 huge mountains in the Alps, you've got this prestigious European river and World class competitors from all corners of the World coming here to put their mettle to the test. It just really is a great race course, an extremely professional, well done event, and you get the best of the best racers together to go head to head and see who's the fastest.”
Over the course of 2 action packed days, that 175 was narrowed down to just 16 athletes for the men’s final and 5 for the women’s. The finals themselves are straight shoot-outs for time, with the competitors battling the clock and the 280-metre-long course which takes in grade 5 (extremely difficult) and 6 (only runnable under ideal conditions) whitewater. One unique feature of the final is that the provisional leader climbs into the hot seat whirlpool next to the end of the course and waits to see if anyone can beat their time. If not, they stay in the whirlpool and enjoy the warmth!
Below average water level makes for technical racing
The water level on the river this year was lower than usual, meaning that precision was vital; any deviation off the perfect line being punished by contact with rocks and a loss of time. The competitors knew that simply paddling hard and being untidy was not an option – the course would reward the best paddler on the day, not the strongest one. Conditions were hostile too; the temperature has been low all the way through the event and the water temperature was hovering at around 5 degrees Celsius. Combine that with likely the best field ever assembled in both the men’s and women’s events and before a boat even touched the water, the Sickline final 2016 promised to be one of the toughest competitions in the history of kayaking.
The diversity amongst the competitors was staggering, with the age of the finalists ranging from 22 through to 31 and occupations (few kayakers are able to make a living from their sport) as diverse as sheep shearers, teachers and engineers!
Surprise result in the women’s category
The women’s World Championship final was up first today and pitted 2 British athletes – Sandra Hyslop and Jennifer Chrimes – against Martina Wegman (NED), Pavlina Zasterova (CZE) and 2013/14 Sickline Queen Nouria Newman (FRA). Nouria put down a marker in the semi-final, with a blisteringly quick time of 1.06.12 and as such was most spectators’ favourite to win in the final.
Martina was first out and put down a solid time of 1.10.13. Her run wasn’t perfect so there was clearly an opportunity for the other 4 women, but the tough conditions and the pressure of the occasion meant that nothing was guaranteed. Jennifer Chrimes was out next but a mistake in the Champions Killer -1 section of the run meant that she had to settle for a time of 1.12.95. Jennifer hadn’t even been expecting to make the final however – she wasn’t happy with her qualifying runs on Friday and was therefore delighted just to be taking part in the final.
Next up was Pavlina, who also made a couple of minor mistakes and posted a time of 1.12.52, meaning that Martina Wegman was already guaranteed a medal with 2 athletes still to go. Then it was the turn of Sandra Hyslop, who knew she’d probably have to improve on her performance of 1.09.06 in the previous round if she wanted to take the win here in the Ötztal. She duly did improve, taking the lead in the final with an impressive 1.08.82. Over to you Nouria…
Nouria fired off the start ramp and looked to be on course for a very fast time but a couple of tiny mistakes slowed her down. As she cleared the Champions Killer section and powered for the finish, it was clear that this was going to be close. She threw everything into the last few paddle strokes and crossed the line, only to look at the clock and see that she’d missed out on the win by less than half a second – 0.46 seconds to be exact. After a couple of seconds leaning back in her boat, hands on her head, she paddled ashore and went straight up to the hot seat whirlpool to congratulate Sandra on her win. The women’s final finished with a lovely moment when all 5 women were in the hot seat whirlpool, enjoying the ambience and toasting a wonderful final.
Martina Wegman revealed later, “At the start line we were joking that we’d all just stay in the hot tub and we won’t get out. If somebody else is faster than you we just stay in there and get all of the girls in there; we’re a really tight crew of girls and it’s cool to see the other girls having good lines and fast times. I’m stoked for them and stoked that I’m still on the podium.” Nouria, meanwhile, was reflective after the race and nicely summarised the essence of the Sickline event, “I still want to win but I also know that there are more important things in life and if you don’t enjoy what you do then you’re losing, but if you enjoy what you do every day and try your best, you can only win. When I’m surrounded by good people like at the Sickline…it’s about racing hard and being a high level athlete but also making the most of the mountains here and the people you’re surrounded with.”
Immediately after the final it was as if Sandra could barely believe what she had done and she was remarkably composed and analytical for someone who had just been crowned adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Champion. “I came last year and had a bit of a nightmare in the final so this year is kind of a redemption year and more than anything I’m glad to have put down consistent lines, showing myself that I can make the lines under pressure, which is where I went wrong last year.” As the afternoon and evening progresses and the legendary Champions Party gets underway at Jay’s Cantina in Oetz, her achievement will surely begin to sink in.
Incredibly strong line-up for the men’s final
Before the men’s final even began there were some surprises in the results, with 2-time Extreme Kayak World Champion Joe Morley (GBR), 2014 Sickline bronze medallist Jamie Sutton (NZL), 2014 Green Race Champion Isaac Levinson (USA) and 2009 Freestyle World Champion Nick Troutman (CAN) all failing to reach the last stage of the competition.
Most of the biggest names in kayaking were there though, with triple Extreme Kayak World Champion Sam Sutton (NZL), 2015 adidas Sickline World Champion Gerd Serrasoles (ESP) and his brother Aniol, 2008 Olympic Champion Alexander Grimm (GER), 2010 Sickline Silver medallist Michele Ramazza (ITA), 2015 Freestyle World Championship runner-up Mathieu Dumoulin (FRA), and 2012 Olympic Bronze medallist Hannes Aigner (GER) all lining up in the field of 16 athletes.
Michele Ramazza took an early lead with a time of 1.02.84, just over a second quicker than he’d managed in the previous round but still a couple of seconds slower than some of the times already recorded on the Wellerbrücke this weekend. Michele held on to that lead as both Stefan Hengst and Mathieu Dumoulin completed their runs, but he was then displaced in the hot seat whirlpool by Aniol Serrasolses (ESP) who flew down the course in 1.01.70 – his fastest time of the whole weekend.
Aniol took his seat in the hot tub and all he could do was watch as World class kayaker after World class kayaker battled to beat his time. Michal Buchtal (CZE) and Matias Leonardo Lopez (ARG) – the first South American to ever appear in a Sickline final – came and went, as did Phil Mitchell (GBR) and Eric Deguil (FRA), meaning that when 3 time Freestyle World Champion Dane Jackson (USA) made his way onto the start ramp, Aniol was still in the hot tub. Dane is incredibly passionate about Sickline and famously once ran the Wellerbrücke rapid 50 times in one day but he has never won the title here. He actually only qualified for the final after taking one of the two “Lucky Loser” spots from the previous round having lost his head to head battle against Hannes Aigner. Once he’d made it to the final however, he was not going to miss his opportunity to make a mark. He flew down the initial section of rapids and put in an almost faultless run, only to miss out of the lead by 0.48 seconds.
After coming off the water he commented, “I love coming to Sickline and I always wanted to be on the podium - it’s a great race and I’m just fired up to be on the podium this year and can’t wait for the next year. It’s pretty wild to think that I was out after the second round when Hannes Aigner beat me in the head to head. Then I got to the final as one of the Lucky Losers; that was pretty awesome because it’s the second year in a row that happens. Then to be able to go into the finals and pull out a third place run makes me feel lucky for sure.”
Alexander Grimm, Zeno Ivaldi (ITA), Antoine Launay (POR) and Hannes Aigner all had their chance to shift him but couldn’t do so, meaning that with 2 competitors left – Aniol’s brother, the defending Extreme Kayak World Champion Gerd Serrasolses and 3 time adidas Sickline winner Sam Sutton – Aniol was guaranteed at least a place on the podium.
Closest adidas Sickline final in history
Gerd put in a time of 1.02.36 – good but not good enough. Could Sam Sutton, so often dominant here in Ötztal, claim an unprecedented fourth title? His run was almost faultless and as he powered for the line, the crowd screamed their support but it wasn’t enough – Sam missed out on the title by 0.01 seconds. It was the closest adidas Sickline final in history and also the most dramatic; had the final between a hundredth of a second shorter we would have had a different winner.
Aniol was mobbed in the hot tub by his fellow competitors and could scarcely believe what he’d achieved.
“I didn’t have any expectations coming here, I just wanted to get through the qualification. I made it and then I just wanted to get to the final. Here I am now winning this, it’s just unbelievable. I still have a bone sticking out of my shoulder from an injury this winter, so I don’t know what I’m doing here, I should be getting surgery and stuff. I don’t know, it’s going really well for me, I’m enjoying the moment and it’s just great to be here.
The result in the final was so close. I don’t know what to say, if this is destiny or just that I am a really lucky guy. I have always been very lucky in my life and this was another lucky moment because Sam has been killing it throughout this whole event and he should have won, but I got luckier today and I can just be grateful for that.
Sam Sutton, meanwhile, was magnanimous in defeat – “I’m so stoked for Aniol, he’s one of the coolest dudes and probably one of the craziest kayakers out there. I feel sorry for Gerd getting knocked out (of the podium places), he has had a really tough year this year, but it’s really cool that the Serrasolses brothers both claimed the title, that’s something that my brother Jamie and I haven’t been able to achieve yet.”
So Aniol Serrasolses and Sandra Hyslop are the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Champions 2016, with Sam Sutton and Nouria Newman taking silver and Dane Jackson and Martina Wegman claiming bronze.
Moments after the conclusion of the men’s final, rain began to fall and the crowd and competitors dispersed into Oetz village to get ready for what is likely to be a huge party tonight. The change in weather came with perfect timing and it was if the Öztal valley, having provided a wonderful location for the World’s greatest kayaking competition, was telling everyone that it was time to get off the river and enjoy the hospitality of the village.
Perhaps the last word is best left to adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Champion 2016 Sandra Hyslop “Sickline 2016? It’s just fun whitewater and paddling with all your friends in a beautiful place.”
For more information and replay of the final go to www.adidas-sickline.com/live