By Accident, Pace Is Faster In the Water Than on Land
Sunday, August 5, 2007
McHENRY, Md., Aug. 4 -- Before making the incline toward the manmade whitewater course here, one first must pass through a town called Accident. With a population of around 350 and a strictly enforced speed limit of 25 mph, Accident tries to serve as a warning to prospective thrill-seekers.
But telling the entrants in the U.S. National Whitewater Slalom Championships to proceed with caution is a waste of time.
"For the most part in a tight race, you just have to let it all out there," said Benn Fraker of Peachtree City, Ga., who won the men's canoe national title Saturday at the Adventure Sports Center International course with a time of 202.1 seconds.
The championships were divided into four classes: one-man canoe, two-man canoe, and men's and women's kayak. Each entrant was given two runs down the one-third-of-a-mile course. The entrant with the lowest combined time, including penalties, won.
Heather Corrie, who has dual U.S./British citizenship, won the women's kayak with a time of 245.98; the tandem of Austin Crane and Scott McCleskey won the two-man canoe in 235.77; and Scott Mann of Mt. Holly, N.C., won the men's kayak in 192.14.
"Sometimes it's worth it; sometimes it's not," kayaker Caroline Queen, a native of Darnestown, Md., said of taking the conservative route down the course. "You have to be very reactive."
On the ASCI course, paddlers must react to a layout that can change with the turn of a knob. The volume of water flowing downstream can be altered by adjusting the number of pumps in use. In addition, six wave shapers allow race directors to form the riverbed to adjust the intensity of the rapids. "If you want to host races, you can't wait on nature," said Matt Taylor, ASCI operations director.
That's how a whitewater course with Class 2 rapids and a large margin of error transformed yesterday into a national championship course with Class 3/4 rapids and little room to spare.
"Two inches one way or another makes a big difference," said Brett Heyl, who won kayak national titles in 2005 and '06.
On Saturday, that difference equated to a loss of bragging rights for Heyl, but in the coming months, those inches may decide whether he qualifies for the 2008 Olympics. In 2004, both Heyl and Scott Parsons, a Bethesda native, were members of the U.S. Olympic kayak team.
This time around, the International Olympic Committee has mandated only one kayaker may represent each country. The two paddlers will face off in three Olympic qualifying events for the lone spot beginning at the World Championships in Brazil this September.
For these two, as well as the other members of the U.S. national team who competed at the National Championships, yesterday's event was more about fine tuning than anything else.
"The pressure was on me today, because [Parsons] has had a good summer, and I've been struggling," said Heyl, a student at George Washington who finished third behind Mann and Parsons. "I'm trying to get back on my game, and he's already figured his out."
Fraker, a U.S. national team member, agreed the event was a dress rehearsal for future international events. "I wanted to win, but my biggest focus was to iron out the kinks for the races later in the year," he said.
The event served as an opportunity to gain experience for Chris Wiegand's crew. A member of the Front Range Paddle Association, Wiegand helps coach three teenage girls from Iran. The girls came to America five weeks ago with Katayoon Ashraff and have been learning how to kayak from scratch in Boulder, Colo. The National Championships was the trio's second competition.
One of the Iranian kayakers, Roxanna Razeghean, was afraid to get in a boat a month ago, according to Ashraff. On Saturday, Razeghean rushed down the course without hitting or missing a single gate. She finished 11th out of 14, but that is not really the point.
"I didn't expect them to paddle like this on a hard course," Ashraff said. "I just thought they would go down the river."