By David McClure.
What a worlds… Full of excitement, full on commitment and a little bit of disappointment. The 2022 Freestyle World Championships took place in Nottingham England after a year’s delay due to Covid. In spite of the delay, the worlds was a fantastic event run by Andrew (Jacko) Jackson and Josh Wedgewood. They took freestyle to a whole new level, bringing in a festival of events like ‘World’s Biggest Loop`, ‘Downriver Freestyle’ and ‘Masters’ categories. It allowed for so much more participation for competitors and paddlers alike.
Alongside the festival was one of the most hotly contested worlds we’ve ever had. Juniors and seniors stepped up their games to no-end since the 2019 Worlds in Spain, and the sheer numbers involved from European nations showed the growth of the sport at grassroots and high performance levels.
Being Irish, I can only say we have come the furthest, fastest. I don’t think too many in attendance would argue with that statement. We had 3 junior women for the first time ever, 2 C1 women, 3 squirt-boating and 5 Senior women. Making quarters in every round, semi’s in 3 classes and finals in 2. It’s unheard of and it’s only the beginning, having coached and paddled with many Irish women, I can safely say we haven’t come anywhere near the peak of what’s to come.
In the men’s class, Theo Baker, Barry Loughnane, Tom Dunphy Rory O`Reilly and myself competed. It was a strong Irish contingent with the men’s team becoming harder and harder to make.
Myself and Rory O’ Reilly made quarters while I went on to semi’s and finals. I qualified out of quarters and semis in 1st but placed 4th in finals. In doing so I think I showed the dynamic, explosive and expressive style I wanted to put on stage. Unfortunately I struggled in finals but that’s how competition goes sometimes. It was pretty damn cool to be the best paddler in the world for a few rounds.
Photo – Jack Ledwith
Some of the most excitement came out of the OC1 finals, a discipline I’ve struggled to watch previously but having Irish paddler Eoghan Kelly in finals brought me to the realisation it’s the best discipline we’ve got. 5 paddlers competing in bathtubs trying to surf a wave was hilarious, impressive, and makes me want to try it. Which I think leads to one of the main things the freestyle worlds is supposed to show… just how amazing is freestyle!
The progression the Irish are showing is amazing. The Irish are showing we can mix the best craic and best support with the best paddling you’ll see. In the junior classes, Beibhin Butler made finals in C1 women’s and Junior women’s K1. A record breaking feat for us. In junior men’s, Rory Kearney and Sean Gregan made semi’s. Both had the potential to make finals, but needed a little more competition experience to deal with the pressure the Worlds brings. All 3 will be exciting to watch as they move up to seniors.
Photo – Jack Ledwith
In squirt boating, Alex McClure brought the Irish another new feat and qualified for the women’s finals. Eoghan Kelly qualified for semis in C1 men’s alongside his OC1 feat. Both Aoife Hanrahan and Anais O’ Donovan qualified for quarter finals with Anais making semis. Both will be great to watch as they progress in the sport.
To finish, I’d like to thank all the paddlers that showed up, all the supporters, (especially the Irish), Canoeing Ireland, the ICF, judges, volunteers and most gratefully the host organisers Andrew (Jacko) Jackson and Josh Wedgewood. What Jacko and Josh laid down will I hope, become the base of what’s expected at worlds. It’s not just about the results, It’s about the community and the joy we get from kayaking.
It’s probably about time I let my sponsors know how grateful I am. Palm Equipment, VE Paddles, Canoecentre, Exo kayaks UK & Ireland and Bluewall Technology. I couldn’t have achieved what I have without your support. Thank you!