When slalom paddlers descend on the newly completed Lee Valley Whitewater Centre course for the London Olympic Games in a few short days, they’ll do so knowing they’re in for some serious whitewater. Built by Colorado’s Whitewater Parks International (WPI), the course has been proclaimed as the best and most challenging Olympic paddling venue to-date. Visiting athletes and coaches from across the globe have expressed resounding approval of the course, acknowledging it sets a new world standard for purpose-built whitewater.
London’s Olympic Delivery Authority asked WPI to re-create many of the best attributes found in the course they created for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In the process, WPI designers added several innovations which have since raised the bar. Additional “moveable” obstacle work was completed on the course by three-time World Cup Slalom Champion Scott Shipley of S20 Whitewater of Boulder, Colo.,
“The reaction from athletes and coaches across the board has been extremely positive and confirms that this venue will provide edge-of-your-seat excitement during the Games,” says Bob Campbell, managing director of WPI. “It will be a very impassioned competition, with racers pushing their limits while being tested by some pretty serious hydraulics – it’ll be quite a show.”
According to Richard Fox, vice-president of the International Canoe Federation, there is strong consensus on the venue among the international Canoe/Kayak Slalom community. “I’ve talked to the teams and athletes and it’s pretty clear they think it’s an excellent course,” he says. “I think it’s the best competition course and Olympic venue we’ve ever had and it’s fit for purpose.”
From the athlete’s perspective, 2012 Olympian and World Championship bronze medalist Richard Hounslow of Great Britain says it’s whetted his competitive appetite. “It's one of the hardest courses in the world to paddle on,” says Hounslow. “Ask any of the racers who have just come over here and they say it's a great course, great fun, but very hard.”
First time Olympian Caroline Queen (USA) feels fortunate to have a few weeks of practice to get to know the course better before the competition. “I love the course on the whole,” she says. “It offers a great balance of consistency and challenge that drives me to be better.”
Vavřinec Hradilek (Czech Republic), who won the Men’s Kayak category during the London 2012 Pre-Olympic Test Event last summer, is also impressed. “It has some amazing features, with plenty of stoppers,” he says. “When you make a mistake then it’s hard to go back on line.”
2008 Olympic Silver Medalist David Florence (Great Britain) estimates he will have been down the course close to 3,000 times come Games time. “It’s very big, difficult, fast, with lots of big drops and big waves – it is an exciting place to paddle,” said Florence, who will be competing in both the Men’s Single and Men’s Double Canoe categories.
The 1,000-foot-long competition channel features two dramatic signature drops. The channel’s shape creates a long straightaway that keeps the current rushing down the center of the two percent gradient course at 4,000 gallons per second. The layout is also great for spectators, affording views of almost the entire course from any vantage point. A secondary channel will be used by competitors for warming up before their runs.
Five days of Canoe Slalom competitions run from Sunday, July 29 through Thursday, August 2, in front of an expected crowd of 12,000 spectators each day. The venue has been completely sold out for all event days. Eighty-two competitors will be gunning for a total of four sets of medals.