By Gonzalo Melero, our correspondent from Spain | This morning Hungarian legend Renata Csay won her 11th world title in the K1 Senior Women's race, becoming the most decorated paddler ever at the ICF marathon world championships, just surpassing another legend, Spanish Manuel Busto, who has ten golds so far. In the other two races Spain has showed the depth of its paddling talent in this discipline by taking another two gold medals; Manuel Antonio 'Tono' Campos in the Senior Men’s C1 and Iván Alonso is in men’s K1.
Races started in fair weather with an exciting starting list, packed with both marathon experts and a number of sprinters who’d come to Rome after finishing their sprint season in London. Sprinters rely on short bursts of speed but marathon paddlers draw on their long and valuable experience and today proved no exception.
In the women's race, we could see from the start that, with Renata Csay (HUN) around, other contestants could only hope for silver.
The 35 year old mother-of-two refused to contemplate paddling a tactical race and from the very start just paddled away from the field, doing all 6 laps on her own. With a firm pace, Csay pulled away from the chasing group, composed of locals Stefania Cicali and Anna Alberti (ITA), London 2012 Olympian Henriette Engel Hansen (DEN), Berenike Faldum (BUL) and Krizstina Bedoecs (AUT). On the second lap, they split and only Cicali and Faldum remained to chase Csay, while Hansen, Bedoecs and Alberti stayed back in the third group. Not much changed after that, with Csay widening the gap to one and a half minutes. The interest was in the fight for silver between Cicali and Faldum. The Italian tried twice at the portages to escape, but she was caught again in the water. On the third attempt and with one lap to go, Stefania Cicali managed to get into second position while Renata Csay, already comfortably in front, could afford to relax her pace a bit.
So gold and canoeing history for Renata Csay. It was silver for a young and promising Stefania Cicali and a bronze medal for an impressive Berenike Faldum. After them, Anna Alberti finished in 4th position. She was the first in a list of much-fancied big names crossing the finish line out of the medals, including Hansen who was finally disqualified, the very promising Agnes Brun- Lie (NOR); South Africans Alexa Cole and Michele Eray (winner of this year's Sella Descent and the Nelo Summer Challenge), Birgit Pontoppidan (DEN), winner of the Denmark Marathon 2012 and Mara Santos (ESP) who was World Champion way back in 2000.
At same time as the women’s K1 race, the C1 men were on the course - with a competition that featured a good mix of young and veteran paddlers. Two of them had the best odds and there was no room for surprises: Péter Nagy (HUN) and Tono Campos (ESP) set a tough pace from the start and managed to open a one minute gap which then allowed them to become more tactical and conservative. They spent the whole race switching between first and second place, trying not to bother each other at the portages knowing that they were each sure of a medal. Behind them, youngsters Nuno Barros (POR) and Matthias Ebhardt, the latter the defending champion from Germany, formed a second group in the fight for bronze.
Nagy and Campos succeeded in keeping away from the chasing pair. On the last lap Ebhardt managed to get away from Barros while, for the two leaders, the race was decided at the final portage. Campos jumped out of his canoe quickly to make an impressive run on the bank where he managed to get a 30 metre advantage before entering the water again. He had enough left in the bank to paddle the last 1.5 km on his own to become the new World Champion. Péter Nagy took silver and Matthias Erbhardt, had to make do with bronze this time.
After the award ceremony, it was time for the blue riband K1 men, an event featuring 38 paddlers and almost as many favourites. The group included three-time world champion Hank McGregor (RSA), fellow South African Len Jenkins Jr, Portugal’s Fernando Pimenta and José Ramalho, Iván Alonso and David Rodríguez Dorado (ESP), Máté Petrovics (HUN) and Tomas Jezek (CZE).
The start was a veritable frenzy as the sprint specialists led off the line. The immediate front-runners included Pimenta himself (silver medalist in K2 1.000 at London 2012), 1.000 metre stars like Slovenians Lovro Leban and Jost Zakrajsek as well as Norwegian Daniel Salbu. A bunch of around twelve paddlers went down the Tiber in the leading group. Only 6 made it back after the first portage however, and four of them were marathon specialists: Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins, Iván Alonso and José Ramalho, with Fernando Pimenta (impressive in his second marathon in 24 hours, winning a silver medal in the U23 category the day before) and relative outsider Jan Andrlik (CZE).
The Czech quickly paid for his extra effort and dropped back to the following group, while the main five stayed in the leading pack for the next few laps. There was an incident at the third portage when Ramalho and McGregor fought for the place to start running, with the Portuguese paddler falling down the wooden ramp bashing both kayak and paddle hard against the ground.
Ramalho lost precious time and was then out of the first group for the next two laps. Fortuitously, however, the race became extremely tactical in the leading group with the pace easing right off as both South Africans, Alonso and Pimenta just looked at each other to see who would take it up. Alonso didn’t want McGregor to go onto the v-wash and Pimenta may have been tired from the day before. The result was that this allowed the chasing group to get closer and closer. Ramalho was pushing hard for it and Joep van Bakel, Luca Piemonte and the impressive Michael Leverett (AUS, 41 years old) were right behind.
At the fourth portage, McGregor made an apparent break for it, as expected. He pressed hard into the portage and made a magnificent run to start paddling 20 metres before the rest of the group. It seemed then that he was all set to win the race as he did last year in Singapore. But it was just a “watch out, here I am”, as he slowed down again at the turn and was swallowed by the chasing group. The four started once more to look at each other to see who would do the work and, again, they became an eight paddler unit when the others caught up though not with Italian Piemonte. Hungarian Máté Petrovics was in the running after a good comeback during the first two thirds of the race.
At the fifth portage, there was another little drama for McGregor. He almost fell in when getting back into the kayak and got plenty of water in it. He decided to go on after Jenkins, but there was too much water in the boat and during the next lap it was clear he couldn’t pump it all out, so he lost around 25 seconds. His rivals realised he had a problem and both the Portuguese and the Spanish Alonso worked to make the gap bigger. When arriving at the sixth portage, McGregor was again in a second group with van Bakel, Petrovics and Leverett. He actually had to turn the kayak upside down to let all the water out and then had to catch up for the whole of the next lap. There was only 4.5 km to go at this stage and Ramalho was pulling away from the leaders, determined not to let the second group catch up. Even so, McGregor managed to close the gap and there was again an eight paddler group.
The last portage was clearly going to be exciting. And the two Portuguese didn’t want to give away a chance and jumped out of the kayak in first position, followed closely by Alonso and McGregor, while Jenkins was suffering 20 metres behind. The rest of the group was out of contention. The run on the bank was chaotic and McGregor managed again to catch Ramalho on the way down to the water and as he did so the Portuguese hit the floor with his kayak. When the top four were finally in the water, they disappeared, racing for the last turn all together.
Finally, it was the Spaniard, Iván Alonso, leading the last and long sprint to the finish line. Ramalho was on his left wash and McGregor on the half-v, with Pimenta giving up some metres behind. The positions were unchanged by the finish and Iván Alonso claimed his first world title, with Ramalho taking silver and McGregor, bronze.
Although Alonso was clearly happy with his performance, the race was not over. When interviewed just after leaving his kayak, Alonso said that the South African’s behaviour was not fair during the race. At the same time, the Portuguese Federation made an official complaint to the committee and everything ended at around eight o’clock in the evening with the disqualification of both Hank McGregor and Len Jenkins Jr. due to “rough tactics” at the portages. It was not the best way to finish a world championship race, but McGregor will have another chance tomorrow paddling the K2 with Grant van der Walt.
- Friday - Hungary dominates marathon worlds in Rome on day one
- Sunday - Last day Marathon Worlds, the crew boats, Renata Csay does it again!
Proofreading: Nicolaas Harding and Guy Dresser