Between the 4th and the 7th of October 2012, 150 of the world’s best whitewater kayakers from 30 different countries meet in Tirol’s Ötztal Valley to determine the Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Champion 2012 on the legendary “Wellerbrücke” river section.
With a fabulous time of 55.84 seconds Kiwi Sam Sutton not only secured his second World Championship title in 2011, but also undercut the course record he had set in 2010 by three seconds. This year, the 24-year old kayaking pro from Rotorua New Zealand wants to do a hat-trick. But that’s a tough nut to crack in a highly competitive race. Last year, places 2 (58.0) to 8 (58.96) all clocked within one second. Sutton’s teammate Michele Ramazza (ITA), who won silver in 2010, is in excellent shape, and the Olympians Mike Dawson (NZL), Vavrinec Hradilek (CZE) – silver in London - and Hannes Aigner (GER) – bronze in London – also hope to benefit from their current slalom fitness at the adidas Sickline Worlds.
There are no official federations within extreme kayaking. Still there had been a strong desire amongst extreme kayakers to have a World Championship. This year, the Extreme Kayak World Championship already celebrates its fifth anniversary. „With the adidas Sickline Worlds we wanted to create an event for the kayaking community and I am pleased that it has been embraced by both, the kayaking world elite and the international media“, says Axel Burkhardt, head of Olympic Sports, Cycling & Outdoor at adidas Global Sports Marketing. „In 2010 and 2011 the final was broadcast live in 11 different countries and this year we will cover the race again live and in full HD.“
The Sickline World Championship
A “sick line” is the perfect, smoothest and fastest line downriver. That’s what the competitors have to find when racing the so-called “Wellerbrücke” rapids, a famous section of Tirol’s glacier-fed Ötztaler Ache River, peppered with loads of natural obstacles. The section has the reputation of being the Eiger Northwall of whitewater kayaking, thus it offers the perfect setting to crown the World Champion in extreme kayak racing. The rapids are solid class 5 whitewater, both technically difficult and dangerous, so there are consequences to mistakes. Therefore the field of 150 international kayakers is filtered down in two qualification runs to determine the 45 best paddlers who compete in the actual World Championship race. The top 3 of the previous year – Sam Sutton (NZL), Mike Dawson (NZL) and Paul Böckelmann (GER) – are automatically qualified.
„Some of the whitewater paddlers who participate in this World Championship run much higher waterfalls and even more extreme rivers during their expeditions around the world. But they do this maybe once in their life and time doesn’t matter. On a race course it’s all about justifiable risk”, explains event director Mike Hamel. “The adidas Sickline tests the kayakers’ ability to not only get down one of the world’s most challenging rapids in one piece, but to do this fast as well. The 280-metre long racecourse demands everything in terms of skill and fitness from the athletes, meaning they have to retrieve their full potential to the point, run after run. They cannot afford the slightest mistake and they must be extremely fit, because the cruxes, like the infamous “Champions Killer”, are located at the end of the course.”
For safety reasons, public authorities have officially closed the Wellerbrücke rapids year-round. The section is only open for the adidas Sickline World Championship. To ensure the highest possible safety for the competitors, the organisers run an extensive safety operation. Water rescue services, mountain rescue services, and the Austrian Red Cross work hand in hand with the event-own “hf Safety Crew”, that consists of ten kayaking experts, many of whom are legends within the sport themselves.
The riverbanks are virtually littered with extremely qualified safety staff that use innovative life saving tools, like ropeways, and turn the Wellerbrücke rapids – at least for one weekend – into the safest rapid in the world
“The athletes are pushing the physical and mental limits in this race. We want them to focus on their run rather than having to think about what will happen when they end up swimming in 6 degree cold water.”
Adidas Sickline Queen
Whitewater kayaking is an extreme and rather dangerous sport. Still there are more and more women enjoying it. “The level of female paddlers has increased immensely over the last years, which is why for the first time ever we invite the top 3 ladies in the field to race on the actual Wellerbrücke race course this year. The girls will compete in two runs for the adidas Sickline Queen title. For us it’s a test. If more women enter the race in the years to come – currently we have eight female participants – we may consider hosting a World Championship for women, too”, says Hamel.
The 48 male finalists first have to survive two knock-out rounds on the Wellerbrücke rapids (quarter final/ semi final), before the top 15 kayakers compete for the podium. The kayaker with the slowest race time of the previous run has to start first. He will climb into the so-called “hot seat”, a whirlpool for the fastest athlete, until his race time has been beaten.
Ötztal – a paradise for kayakers
“We are pleased that also in 2012 the adidas Sickline Worlds will draw kayakers from around world to the Ötztal Valley”, says tourism director Oliver Schwarz. “This year athletes will be travelling from as far as Australia, Japan, India, Chile and Costa Rica to participate in the race. Among insiders the Ötztal has been known for many years as one of Europe’s most beautiful kayak grounds. With its glacier rivers our valley offers whitewater in all facets between May and October and, depending on the water level of the Rofener-, Venter- and Oetztaler Ache, kayakers of all levels can find their personal challenge on our rivers. More and more kayakers arrive one or two weeks prior to the World Champs to train in our alpine valley.“
All-around service for athletes
Before and after the competition the adidas Sickline participants are truly pampered. Throughout the race weekend athletes can enjoy free physiotherapy and massages at the adidas Reload Centre in the Expo Area. Former Canoe World Champion and butcher Uli Knittel caters for the physical well-being with his sumptuous dinner buffets. Film producer Olaf Obsommer and other kayak celebrities present their latest movies at the Big-O Movie Night. And for all those who just can’t get enough DJ Chainsaw is rocking the crowds at the legendary adidas Sickline Champions Party at Jay’s Cantina in Oetz.
Event website: www.adidas-sickline.com