The Canoe Wales slalom squad have had exciting results at the recent Junior ECA series races in Poland and the Czech Republic. Richard Lee, our Performance Manager and Head Slalom Coach, provides us with this update from the road:
The Canoe Wales slalom squad took to the road again to race at the Junior European Canoe Association cup in July and August with races at Krakow (Poland) and Ceske Budevojice (Czech Republic). The race series is held over 12 races at 6 venues, with the best 6 races counting towards an overall winner. Having attended two of the races previously, Welsh paddlers were placed well and looking to build on this, both in preparation for the final event in Bratislava in late August, and also the Junior European championships in Hohenlimburg, Germany.
The race at Krakow is held on a channel to the side of the river Wisla, just outside the historic city of Krakow. Here the polish Canoe Federation have developed the Kolna multi sports complex, with a swimming pool, gym, club facilities, a hotel and hostel accommodation alongside the course, which in turn hosts regular World and European age group championships. The course itself is similar to a cross between the Cardiff and Nottingham white water courses and following two days of training, 270 racers competed across two days to find the overall winner of this fourth leg of races. Welsh paddlers fared well, with Emily Davies taking the U23 C1 Women win, and four Welsh paddlers narrowly missing the podium in 4th place - Lili Bryant (U16 K1W), Will Coney (U23 C1M), Etienne Chappell (U16 K1M) and James Cooper (U23 K1W), while Jess Rayner picked up a final on the Sunday to improve her overall ranking.
A quick departure on Sunday evening saw James Cooper traveling to Prague with Irish and English paddlers for some training, while seven paddlers travelled to Liptovsky Mikulas in Slovakia for three days of speed training in the Tatras mountains. Here the Welsh boats shared the water with double Olympic champion, Elena Kaliska, C2 leading pairs - the Skantars and Kucera & Batik and a member of the Slovak team. The water although low, provided a good base, with a run down to Bratislava, where the Danube feeds a 300 metre channel which drops 12 metres to give one of the most intense slalom experiences in the world with the 4 metre drop -“ Niagara - being the sting in the tail. This course provided an opportunity for young paddlers to expand their white water hard drive, before returning to the racing circuit at Ceske Budejovice.
With a short training session on the Friday, the paddlers were ready for racing by the Saturday on a course that resembled the Holme Pierrepoint training course in form, although the rapids were formed by the Raid Block system that creates the Lee Valley Olympic course. Once again, race results were combined over the two days to provide an overall points table. James Cooper, fresh from Prague, took the U23 K1 Men win, while Megan Hamer Evans took a second place in the K1W under 18 section. Eti Chappell was 2nd in the U16 K1Men, while 2nd placed Lili Bryant shared the podium with Antonia Galuskova, the current Junior World champion. Emily Davies took a fourth consecutive podium at the ECA races in 3rd overall, while Jess Rayner produced a good Saturday final performance. Over the course of 4 legs of the ECA series, all 8 Welsh paddlers recorded a final, while 6 of the athletes featured in the top three of their events at some point in the tour, which not only saw podium performances but also great experiences built on successes, failures and hard work, which will see the young paddlers well in the future.
This future begins next weekend with the ECA cup final at Bratislava (where James Cooper will compete), the Junior and Under 23 European championships where Eti Chappell, Megan Hamer Evans, Tom Abbott and Gabi Ridge will compete for Great Britain.
Canoe Wales are pleased to announce that after a team of Welsh paddlers attended the Youth Olympic Games World Qualification Selection Race at Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham on Saturday November 25th and after braving some very challenging conditions, Welsh paddler Lili Bryant was selected to the Great Britain Team.
Lili, of Llandysul and a student at Ysgol Bro Teifi, will now travel to Barcelona from 6-15 April 2018, and then if selected onto Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Youth Olympic Games finals from the 6-18 October 2018.
Lili had a tremendous season in 2017 finishing top of the British J16 Slalom rankings and 11th overall in the UK. She travelled with Welsh coaches Richard Lee and Tommy Power to the European cup races at Flattach, Austria, Augsburg, Germany, Krakow, Poland, Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic and Bratislava, making the podium in most of the races. She also attended the Mezzana International in Italy finishing 3rd in the finals. These outstanding results meant that she finished her European tour 5th out of 88 competitors.
The Youth Olympic Games is set up slightly different from what Lili is used to and the competition not only tests the competitors in slalom, her natural discipline, but also sprint kayaking. Each competitor must race head to head along a designated course with an eskimo roll gate on the slalom, then switch boats to the faster but less stable sprint kayaks, giving an overall time for both disciplines.
In Llandysul, Lili can train 8 – 10 times per week in slalom but now has to try and fit in some sprint sessions to strengthen her weaker discipline. Llandysul does not lend itself to flat water, but luckily Llandysul Paddlers has a small lake that can be used and some slower stretches of the Teifi will become her new training ground.
The other Welsh paddlers that narrowly missed out on GB selection were – Daniel Rees, Matthew Elliott, and Fin Yates Jones, all from Ysgol Bro Teifi, Catrin Schrouder from Ysgol Bro Peder and Rhodri Slaven from Llanrwst Canoe Club. The British Canoeing Team selected for the Youth Olympics Qualification Event are Lili Bryant (Wales), Lois Leaver (Scotland) Thomas Mayer (England), Jack Brockway (Scotland).
Canoe Wales has a great history of training paddlers up for Welsh and GB squads and would like to wish Lili and the rest of the team success in Barcelona.
A canoeing course in school started Richard Lee’s interest in canoeing. Within 4 days a group of youngsters from Ysgol y Berwyn, Bala were paddling and swimming down chapel falls on the river Tryweryn. The 1981 World championships, creation of Bala Canoe Club and Barry Evans’ enthusiasm in a wild water racer cemented what was to be a long term relationship with the sport. Through luck and clearing, he found himself studying geography at Lampeter University, and training at Llandysul on a regular basis until taking up work at Canolfan Tryweryn as centre supervisor and raft guide, while also training and competing hard (in polo, wild water racing and the odd marathon) with other local paddlers as part of the Welsh team. He would regard himself as a good trainer, but not such a good racer, while taking a couple of Welsh championships slalom titles, British open team titles and representing Wales at the Europa Cup in 1988 – the only time the home nations competed at the continental championships. Following a return to study at Loughborough University, where he picked up a degree in Sports management and the British Universities title in 1990, and a brief stab at full time training, he took up working with local authorities as a sports development officer. This interest in helping others to enjoy sport was also inspired by coaches Bill Endicott, Alan Edge and Jim Jayes on the water, and Richard continued to coach locally and also as a voluntary coach with Wales and the Great Britain under 23 team. During these years, he was also a core member of Bala Canoe Club, organising races and events, and the club raised £50000 to purchase and develop Bala Mill.
In 1997 he took up the role of Chief Executive with Welsh Canoeing Association, supporting the governing body administratively and managing the National Whitewater centre at Canolfan Tryweryn with Paul O’Sullivan, Jonathan Gorman and Loel Collins. While these were testing times with the continued negotiation of access agreements, working with the home nations to form a federal agreement and expansion of the centre’s operations, it was exciting times as Wales started to be recognised as one of the World’s outdoor adventure destinations. (Indeed, Richard’s favourite moments of paddling have been in Wales – at the Bitches on a perfect day with Paul Robertson, Tim Thomas, Nige Robinson and John-Paul Eatock or riding out a tube at Hell’s mouth with Loel and Bob Timms, while a paddle on the Tryweryn with family members is the greatest privilege of all). There were also exciting developments in slalom coaching as National lottery funding was provided to support Olympic sports, and Wales benefitted from a great track record in slalom, with Lara Tipper, Keith Lyons, Bob Ratcliffe and Mick Power taking up roles in coaching. At the same time, Richard was talking to the Cardiff Harbour Authority with Richard Harvey about the possibility of developing a whitewater centre in Cardiff.
Richard took up the opportunity to become a full-time coach in 2004, working with the British team, from Nottingham and across the World, supporting or coaching some great paddlers - Kim Walsh, Fiona Pennie, Colin Radmore, Dan Goddard, Mark Proctor, Nick Smith and Stu Bowman - to medals and finals, or swapping ideas and inspiration with great coaches – Jim Jayes, Mark Delaney, Paul Ratcliffe, Jurg Gotz, Oliver Fix and Mark Ratcliffe. Richard, while heading up the GB coaching team at the 2006 World championships, still had a supporting role in Wales and ensured that athletes who would become coaches, gained experience in Wales. Some great people and coaches - Neil Buckley, Craig Morris, Gareth Wilson, Neil Caffrey, Wojciech Sekula, Nick Smith and Craig Morris have all started their vocation in the Welsh coaching or paddling system, while Tom Power, Dan Goddard, Adam Johnstone, Serena Williams, Gareth Bryant, Jonathan Davies and Rhys Davies have continued this tradition today. Following the Beijing Olympic cycle, Richard returned to Wales, to manage the slalom programme and support development of the Cardiff International Whitewater centre which had been become reality through the Cardiff local authority and the tireless work of Richard Harvey and the support of Canoe Wales. Richard, along with Geoff Forster, Mark Lewin, John Willacy, Gavin Cooper, Kevin Bowerbank and Andy Raspin provided the core support over the last few years and the success of slalom in Wales is now starting to be replicated in sprint, and the culture and structure (and a little bit of attitude) are now handed over to the safe hands of new coaches, headed up by the recently appointed Performance manager, Dan Golder.
Over the years, Richard has been involved, many youngsters have been introduced to paddling, some have represented Wales, and a few have travelled further afield with the British teams. Some have become coaches, many have stopped paddling while others have re-started with their own children. Some, like Toby Jones, make boats so others can go paddling or Mark Abbott run events so others can go racing. While Richard Lee leaves the employment of Canoe Wales in December, to continue his studies at Bangor University, he will still be around on the river - you may catch a fleeting glimpse of a slalom kayak first thing in the morning at Canolfan Tryweryn or on Bala lake in the evening light – and on the river bank (either coaching or walking the dog with his family). That’s what canoeing does to you. Leaves you with stories, memories and moments.
Work hard, expect nothing. Take responsibility, Enjoy yourself.