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Four rounds of Olympic medals decided for athletes at canoe/kayak slalom course

Bob Campbell
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Whitewater Parks International Contributed photoEnthusiastic fans (mostly British) cheer during the Olympic women's kayak final.
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LONDON – Three days of final competitions at the London Games’ Lee Valley White Water Centre have produced four sets of Olympic medals for triumphant canoe/kayak slalom athletes and their home nations.

Out of 12 total medals, France, Germany, Slovakia and Great Britain garnered two medals each, including two golds for France. The remaining four medals went to Italy, Australia, Czech Republic and Spain.

A gold medal came in the form of the ultimate birthday present for Italy’s Daniele Molmenti, who turned 28 on the day of his Olympic men’s kayak final.



But there were no easy paths to the finish line for any of the slalom medalists. Paddling alongside a packed stadium of 12,000 lively fans each day, the final competition course proved both physically demanding and technically challenging for all the athletes.

“The second part of the course was really hard,” Molmenti said. “I knew that, on paper, that if I didn’t make any mistakes it would be very hard to beat.”



Those making it into the finals were tested in true Olympic context, having to navigate the course’s steep gradient and explosive hydraulic features.

“I took some risks because I had nothing to lose and I knew I needed to go fast,” said Emilie Fer, who became the first French woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the women’s kayak category.

To be the fastest, racers had to work to keep their boats on line and manage tricky maneuvers while avoiding costly penalties.

British fans went absolutely bonkers when two Team GB boats took gold and silver, respectively, in the men’s double canoe category, edging out the favored, No. 1-ranked Hochschorner twins from Slovakia, who had won three consecutive Olympic contests.

“That was the most difficult start line I have ever been on,” remarked David Florence of the UK’s silver medal pair. “When we look at how to do C2 well, we look at the Hochschorners. We look at every single race, every single turn. We are honored to have beaten them today.”

While athletes and coaches reflect on the difficulty of London’s new Olympic-grade rapids, the Colorado-based firm, Whitewater Parks International, which designed the London course, takes special satisfaction in knowing it strategically used lessons learned from previous Olympic courses to minimize surging and unstable currents that might have otherwise unevenly affected race results.

As Team USA head slalom coach Silvan Poberaj observes: “The whitewater at Lee Valley is hard, yet really consistent. For competition, I think this course is the best of all the international venues – it’s the most fair for the athletes.”

– Bob Campbell is managing director of Whitewater Parks International, the Glenwood Springs-based firm that designed the Olympic whitewater course and whose role on the London Olympic Authority’s planning team included consulting on the venue’s competition layout. Campbell is in Britain for the Olympics.


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