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 the glacier-fed Ötztaler Ache River, peppered with loads of natural obstacles. The course 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.
picturesque town of Oetz
The Wellerbrücke rapids are solid class 5 whitewater, both technically difficult and dangerous. The well-known rapids on the course have illustrious names like 'TNT Cataract', 'Champions Killer'or 'Champions Killer Minus 1'. They are both feared and endeared by extreme kayakers, all of whom respect the river as much as they want to conquer it. Any mistakes paddlers may make have high consequences. Therefore the field of international kayakers is filtered down in two qualification runs to determine the 48 best paddlers who compete in the actual World Championship race.
„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”, 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 are located at the end of the course.”
Last year, 25-year old Joe Morley from Leeds in Great Britain put in a commanding final run on Ötztaler Ache River, outpaddling a field full of the best extreme kayakers in the world, one which included the seemingly unbeatable 3-time world champion Sam Sutton from New Zealand. Morley’s winning time of 56.10 seconds, though not as fast as the course record set earlier in the day (55.73), proved fast enough to win the gold medal. Joe Morley will return in October to defend his title, as well as the silver and bronze medallist of 2013, Daniel Klotzner (ITA) and Egor Voskoboynikov (RUS). They are set for the final at the Wellerbrücke while all other competitors have to earn their spot.
The top 48 compete in a so-called ‚head-to-head’ format or knockout system, i.e. the fastest of the qualification battles the 48th, the second fastest competes against the 47th and so on. The order of the respective heats is based on a classic tournament ladder. The faster kayaker of each heat advances to next round, together with two ‘lucky losers’ (the two fastest of the eliminated top 48 athletes). The top 26 compete once again in a knockout system. The 13 victorious athletes and two more ‘lucky losers’ then advance to the super final where they compete for world championship honours.
Athletes at the event concur that the adidas Sickline WCH is unique as the best athletes of many different kayaking disciplines – freestyle and slalom world champions, extreme kayakers and river expedition paddlers – come together in a race situation. The head-to-head format makes competition fair and extremely close. Any one of the top 15 finalists have the chance and the ability to earn a spot on the podium.
The final of the Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship is broadcasted live in several countries and online via EverSport.tv. As in previous years, kayaking legend Ben Brown (NZL) will commentate the livestream.
Photos: © Adidas, copyright applied.