It might not have been the results he was hoping for, but Andrew Holcombe put on a solid showing for the USA with a fifth-place finish at Austria’s Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championships.
In a tight final on the legendary Wellerbrücke course, German kayaker and Beijing Olympic gold medallist Alexander Grimm kept up his winning ways by taking first. Grimm finished just 68-hundredths of a second ahead of New Zealand’s Mike Dawson and Jakobus Stenglein from Germany.
Over 100 top kayakers from twenty-two countries, among them Olympic Champions and World Champions in canoe slalom, had travelled to Austria to compete in one of the most difficult extreme races in the world.
In a new race format, the day started off with two rounds of head-to-head heats. The new knock-out system ensured that the midfielders had a fair chance to get decent rankings, while ensuring that the fast guys didn’t battle each other until the final round. As a result, the Superfinal line up of 15 was the best of the best.
First to launch in the Superfinals was Frenchman Fabrice Pouyeto, whose time of 1:04.05 secured him a seat in the Softub Whirlpool to enjoy a beer with Miss Tirol, Christina Keil. His time wasn’t beaten until six runs later by last year’s champion, Thilo Schmitt, who crossed the finish line in 1:02.16 — and then also took his place in the hot tub next to Miss Tirol. In his first extreme race ever, Grimm launched next, glanced a rock in the straights, and then used his Olympic training to finish in 1:00.46.
Next up: Holcombe, whose casual-yet strong style made it look like he would top Grimm on the podium. But right after the main drop, he stalled and got pushed left, losing crucial seconds. He finished at 1:02.09. “Obviously I wanted to be on the podium,” he says. “All my lines were good, but I didn’t paddle as hard as I could in the last section.”
While Grimm stunned his detractors, most of all he surprised himself. “I really surprised myself and now I can relax,” he says. “Before the race I stood outside, looking at the course, it was so powerful. I was nervous and didn’t know what to do. I never expected to be in the finals, and I never expected to do a run in 1:00.46. This morning I wouldn’t believe that I could win gold and be here in this pool. Winning is a combination of fitness and finding the right line. You also need a bit of luck, because anything can happen, you can hit a rock and lose five seconds. But I had a good feeling after each run. I learned a bit each time and improved so my last run was the best. After my slalom season I was looking for another challenge. My World Championship slalom results were not so good, so focusing on this race cleared my head.”
Last on the Superfinal start list was Mike Dawson, who, after starting too far to the right, recovered quickly to finish in a time of 1:01.15 – good enough for 2nd place overall. “Obviously I wanted first, but just being on the podium is fantastic,” he says. “I’m also stoked for Alex. We’ve done slalom races together, but this is his first extreme race. So I’m pretty happy that he got on the podium with me. And coming down Wellerbrücke three times in a row without getting hurt is pretty great. As for a sick line, the sickest line is the cleanest, the one that looks effortless, but the sickest line is also the one that makes you roll and come up with a broken nose. Today, the sickest line was definitely the fastest line.”
Sam Sutton (NZL) was also a favorit, making it to the final drop in just 49 seconds, the fastest time of the day. But then he was pushed left into an eddy, with his finish of 1:02.32 only good for 7th. “I was pretty pissed off,” he says. “I was going well, and then I made a mistake at the last drop, I stopped off at the bottom, and then I had to paddle back into the cataract. So I just lost it at the last drop. I felt pretty gutted.”
Top 5 Results
1) Alexander Grimm,(Ger) 1:00:46
2) Mike Dawsom (NZL) 1:01:15
3) Jakobus Stenglein (Ger) 1:01:87
4) Dejan Kralj (Slo) 1:02:07
5) Andrew Holcombe 1:02:09
More results: Click Here