In July I got the chance to photograph the world's best young canoe athletes as they competed in the the U23/Junior World Championships at Wausau Whitewater. I was there for two days, shooting the qualifying and semi-final runs. The speed and grace of these athletes is pretty incredible to watch, even through a 300m lens. Here is a selection of my favorite frames shot over those two days.
These were the Slalom World Championships, so the boats are not exactly what you would think of as a whitewater boat. These are thin hulled, ultra light and ultra fast canoes. I guess technically there are events for both canoes (c1 and c2 in this case) and kayaks (k1 and K2). The number indicates the number if athletes in each boat. The letter indicates the type of boat, paddle and position of the athlete.
The two pictures above are of K1 paddlers. The athletes in this class use a double bladed paddle and sit in the boat. You can see that they are wearing skirts to keep the water out of the boat. Although Wausau Whitewater is a pretty flat course, the skirts are pretty crucial to keep them afloat.
Above you can see one of the German men's C2 teams. You can see that they are using single bladed paddles. It's slightly difficult to see in this image, but they are also kneeling in the boat. This puts their center of gravity slightly higher and allows for effective use of the single bladed paddle.
Here is a Women's C2 team from Great Britain. In this slightly wider shot you can gain a little insight into how the course is set up. Paddlers must maneuver though a series of gates as they make their way down the course. The runs are timed, and paddlers must guide their boats through the 1m wide gates without touching them. A touch adds a full second to their overall time, a missed gate adds a whole minute to the overall time. This pretty much ensures that there is no scenario where it is faster to skip a gate if you miss it on the first approach.
If you haven't noticed, there are two type of gates, each with a designated color. Green gates must be cleared in a downstream direction while the red gates must be cleared paddling upstream.
The gates are positioned to give the athletes a particular scenario to solve based upon the type of gate, it's position to other obstacles, and it's position to other gates on the course.
There are some that require paddlers to power through and track a clean line, while others require a lot of control and finesse so you don't end up blowing past a gate and have to paddle too far back up to clear it.
The last two images above illustrate the difficulty of navigating some of the upstream gates. This particular gate was placed directly after one of the most technical drops on the course. Not only was this challenging in terms of controlling speed, but it's placement forced the athletes to take a more challenging line to avoid passing the gate in the wrong direction.
The gates themselves are hung from cables spanning the width of the river at regular intervals. This allows the course designers to easily change the course between the rounds of competition. The course used for qualifying was very different from the one used in the finals.
This is Jessica Fox, she went on to win a silver medal in the London Olympics just days after this photo was taken.
I few more images from the weekend.
More to Come. -J.H.