Don’t think rafting is international? Don’t tell that to the 48 men’s and women’s teams from 32 different countries gathered in Turrialba, Costa Rica, for the 2011 World Rafting Championships on the Pacuare River.
Perhaps it was the Brazil team that felt most at home in the Carnival-like atmosphere of the opening day parade, featuring local school kids carrying the various countries’ banners in front of teams dancing, singing, drumming, blowing horns and carrying on as if they were throwing beads at Mardi Gras.
And that’s just how local host Rafael Gallo, president of Rios Tropicales and the International Rafting Federation, envisioned it: flags from countries as varied as Italy and Indonesia, the Czech Republic and Colombia, and Slovakia and the sombrero-wearing Mexicans, waving in the breeze with thousands of fans cheering on.
“It’s come together very well,” says Gallo of the rafting world’s biggest event returning to Costa Rica for the first time since Project Raft held its international competition here in 1991 and the Camel International Whitewater challenge visited in 1998. “It’s been a lot of work getting the athlete village ready, but it’s worth it for the section of river everyone gets to run.”
Indeed, the event is being contested on the Class IV-V Upper Pacuare, upstream of the classic two-day run that has put Costa Rican river running on the map. Warm water, gradient courtesy of the nearby Turrialba volcano and a boulder-choked riverbed promise to test the world’s best in the four-day event.
Rising to the top in the opening day’s Sprint event, just like they did in the parade, was Brazil winning it for the men, followed by Great Britain, Italy and New Zealand, with the U.S. men taking 9th. For the women, the Netherlands claimed the top spot, with Great Britain taking second, New Zealand third and the U.S. fourth.
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