For years and years I’ve wanted to have a crack at the Adidas Sickline Race in Oetz, Austria. Unfortunately, other commitments such as University or work always prevented me from going, but not this year! After a whole summer of playboating on the Ottawa I was very excited to get back in a creekboat, and where better than the Wellerbrucke rapids?
After a long drive over from the UK we arrived late Sunday in Oetz on but with just enough sunlight left to go get a peek at the course (and watch Dane’s 150000th run of the day). I was worried about being out of form having done no real training and not having been in a creekboat for months, therefore I was glad to have arrived with plenty of time to get to know the course before the racing at the weekend.
One of the things that most excited me coming to this event was how many of my good friends were going to be there and the opportunity to catch up with people in between practice runs was really one of the highlights of the week. The first day was dedicated to remembering how to boof and I spent the morning just on the qualification course before moving to the main course in the afternoon. Both the courses are relatively short, but in both there were places with options for different lines and most the week was spent trying to work out which were the fastest. The level of the river dropped throughout the training week and the course started to get a little bony and the preferred lines changed with the fluctuating water levels. By raceday I was confident in my lines and was ready to give it my all.
Friday was qualifications day where we were racing the longer, lower course around 1min 30sec. The biggest drops were at the beginning and here it was important to have smooth lines before picking up the pace for the flatter, rocky lower section. I didn’t have my best lines on the ‘Champion’s Killer’ during qualification but managed to keep out of the tricksome left eddy that caught out many of the girls. My worries about maybe having a shorter, slower boat than some of the other competitors were alleviated when I qualified for Saturday’s semi-finals in second place behind Martina having also got the fastest girls’ time of the day on my second run. My elation to have made it through was saddened slightly by the close calls for two of my ex-WCA students Sofi and Valentin who both just missed the cut to the finals by fractions of a second. I had so much fun paddling with Sofi again in the lead up to the competition and she had been looking really good, particularly on the tougher top-section. For two of the youngest paddlers there they both showed that they will be forces to reckon with in the future.
One of the really nice things about the Sickline event is how they try and bring all the athletes together. Your entry fee includes three (delicious) buffet-style dinners where all the athletes sit down and eat and socialise together. As the competitors are spread all over the town at different accommodations it’s really nice that the organisers make this effort to bring everyone together and it really adds to the atmosphere of the event. Friday night was also ‘movie night’ with some recent kayak films being shown and some really impressive displays of athleticism and adventure were demonstrated on the big screen. An early night for me whilst others who hadn’t qualified headed to the loser’s party at Jay’s Cantina, which judging by the lack of people at the course for our early semi-finals runs must have been a great success!
Saturday morning came with a huge surprise! The river level had shot up by nearly 15cm making the finals course a little pushier, but more importantly changing the preferred line through the crux ‘TNT’ section. With just one practise run before the semi-finals the pressure was on to learn the new fastest line through this rapid, and I’m sad to say that throughout the day I never did manage to get a good line through this section at the new water level. My semi-final run was good enough to get me through to the finals in pole position however, I wasn’t happy with my line on the TNT section capsizing in the now pretty sizable ‘minus-one’ hole. I made up for it with smooth lines on the rest of the course, but went through to the finals knowing I could significantly improve on my time.
Being last off for the finals was pretty nerve-wracking as I had to listen to the commentary of the 4 girls before me. Hearing that Mariann had had a good run and put down a fast time meant that I needed to give it all I had to take the win. A repeat of my poor semi-final run time would put me in second place, but in my mind as in Top Gun…there are no points for second place! It was first or nothing. I went off hard, overcooking the seal-launch a bit and landing quite far left. I brought it back and had smooth lines through the top part of the course, gunning it across the flat section and boofing my way through the mandatory left and the entrance to the TNT. I was now at the trickiest part of the racecourse and the section I had been struggling with all day. A spectacular back-loop due to being a tad too far left and not getting a stroke in when needed left me upside down in the worst possible place. Rolling up I was backwards getting pushed onto the rock above the minus-one hole, capsizing again I was backwards and upside down through minus-one bouncing over rocks. I knew then that I’d forfeited the win, but had been fast enough to clinch a podium position if I rolled up and continued sprinting. When I did make it back upright I was gutted to realise that my spraydeck was off and my boat full of water. Nervous of the siphons on both river banks I committed to running on down the Champion’s Killer sans spraydeck. Struggling to boof a boat full of water I was pushed in to the left eddy fighting the boils to get out through the crack and to the finish line. I couldn’t make it across the eddyline in my sinking boat and had to pull over and empty out. Thank you so much at this point to the safety crew in the eddy who helped me to the side and assisted me emptying my boat so that I could carry on and complete the course with a (very slow) time.
Although very disappointed with my personal performance I was really happy to see Mariann take the top spot and fellow Brit Jenny Chrimes get the silver. One of my goals coming to Sickline was to prove to both organisers and spectators that girls could tackle this course with as much style and finesse as the boys. I failed miserably at this but am glad that Mariann, Jen and the other ladies finalists achieved it (as well as Nouria had spectacularly in previous years). Now it was time to relax, grab some beers, find some friends and watch the boys showdown!
The men’s final was exciting although the stress of the competition and this being their 4th run of the day was starting to show with many times slower than in the semis. Whilst there are many extreme races with more difficult whitewater to tackle I do believe Sickline attracts the most athletic field of competitors and thus is the hardest competition to win. I was pleased to see my ex-GB river racing team member David Bain take the silver medal but couldn’t be happier for Gerd taking the overall win. Throughout the entire competition Gerd was clearly a step ahead of the rest of the field winning every single round by a comfortable margin his consistency in both lines and speed is impressive and it was a well-deserved victory.
All that was left was a final group meal during which we watched the re-runs of all the finalists (quite embarrassing for me, but I did get a pretty big cheer), the awards ceremony and the PARTY!!! By 4.30am it was time to call it a night and sneak in 3hrs of sleep before our early departure. Many thanks to everyone who supported me throughout the event especially Anton Lippek for doing some epic driving stints to and from the competition and kindly sharing his apartment with me. Also to Ingrid Schlott for kindly donating me an IR spraydeck, to replace my not-so-reliable, recently purchased snapdragon deck. Her kindness and good humour at a moment where I was feeling pretty down really cheered me up. Also thanks to everyone who offered words of encouragement, belief and commiseration throughout the competition….Until next year!!!