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adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship

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For an entire decade the world’s best whitewater kayakers have spent the first week of October in Austria’s Ötztal. Year after year, the extreme paddlers gather in the small town of Oetz at the legendary “Wellerbrücke“ rapids to crown the World Champion in extreme kayak racing. Eleven percent of the athletes from over 30 different countries are female.

A “sick line” is the perfect, smoothest and fastest line downriver. And that is exactly what the World Championship competitors have to find when racing down the famous section of the glacier-fed Ötztaler Ache River that is peppered with loads of natural obstacles.

The Wellerbrücke rapids are solid class 5 whitewater, both technically difficult and dangerous. The course has the reputation of being the Eiger Northwall of whitewater kayaking. Its well-known rapids have illustrious names like “TNT Cataract”, “Champions Killer” or “Champions Killer Minus 1”. They are both feared and endeared by extreme kayakers, all of whom respect the river as much as they want to conquer it.

Any mistakes paddlers may make have high consequences. Therefore, the field of international kayakers is filtered down in two qualification runs to determine the best extreme paddlers who then compete in the actual World Championship race.

5 countries crowned with success

Despite the international field of competitors, the World Championship title was handed round among five nations only. In the men’s category, six athletes claimed all gold medals. Germany’s Thilo Schmitt triumphed in the inaugural race in 2008; Olympic Champion Alexander Grimm surprisingly beat the renowned extreme paddlers from around the world in 2009. In the years 2010-2012, Kiwi Sam Sutton dominated the field, the only athlete to ever achieve a hattrick in this race.

Many kayakers thought that Sutton was unbeatable on the Wellerbrücke rapids, because each year he undercut his own course record. However, in 2013 former slalom paddler Joe Morley achieved the impossible and claimed the World Championship belt for Great Britain. In 2014, Morley won for a second time, inspiring many of his fellow countrymen to compete in the adidas Sickline Worlds. For the past three years, Great Britain has sent the largest team to the Extreme Kayak World Championship – 25% of the participants are from the UK.

For the last two years the WCH-title went to Spain – it even remained within one family. Gerd Serrasolses won the adidas Sickline in 2015 while setting a new course record. His younger brother Aniol Serrasolses triumphed on the Wellerbrücke rapids in 2016.

Since 2015, when the number of female participants exceeded 20 for the first time, the event also hosts a female World Championship. Norway’s Mariann Saether won the first gold medal, Sandra Hyslop from the UK won the title last year, defending the honour of the British team that always returned home with a medal since 2013.

New Zealand leads the medals table

With a total of 11 medals in the past nine years New Zealand has been the dominating nation at the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship. 55% of those medals were won by the undoubted Master of Sickline, Sam Sutton himself. Adding up the achievements of men and women, Great Britain is the runner-up in the medals count (3G/2S), followed by Germany in third place (2G/3B).

Sponsor investment pays off

In the past decade, adidas invested nearly three million euros in the realisation and international medialisation of the Extreme Kayak World Championship; 450,000 euros were spent in the Ötztal/ Tyrol region for products and services by local businesses. In the same period, Ötztal Tourism supported the event with an investment of 400,000 euros including allowance in kind.

Each year, the adidas Sickline Worlds generate 2,500 to 3,000 overnight stays in the low season. The international media output of the Extreme Kayak World Championship is also extremely impressive: in total the event has attained 10,000 hours of TV broadcast in 190 countries in the form of 56,450 transmissions (news, reports, highlight shows, live broadcasts). That alone equates a media value of over 300 million euros.

Only the best advance to the next round

The top 52 men and Top 8 women compete in a so-called ‚head-to-head’ format or knockout system, i.e. the fastest of the qualification battles the 52nd, the second fastest competes against the 51st and so on. The order of the respective heats is based on a classic tournament ladder. The faster kayaker of each heat advances to the next round, together with two ‘lucky losers’ (the two fastest of the eliminated top 52 athletes).

The top 28 compete once again in a knockout system. The 14 victorious athletes and two more ‘lucky losers’ then advance to the super final where they compete for world championship honours. In the women’s final, the Top 5 paddlers battle it out for the title.

Athletes at the event concur that the adidas Sickline WCH is unique as the best athletes of many different kayaking disciplines – freestyle and slalom world

champions, extreme kayakers and river expedition paddlers – come together in a race situation. The head-to-head format makes competition fair and extremely close. Any one of the finalists has the chance and the ability to earn a spot on the podium.

Safety first

For safety reasons, public authorities have officially closed the Wellerbrücke rapids year-round. The section is only open for the adidas Sickline World Championship. To ensure the highest possible safety for the competitors, the organisers run an extensive safety operation. Water rescue services, mountain rescue services, and the Austrian Red Cross work hand in hand with the event-own “Swiftwater Rescue” team.

“The riverbanks are virtually littered with extremely qualified safety staff that use innovative life-saving tools, like ropeways, and turn the Wellerbrücke rapids – at least for one weekend – into the safest rapid in the world”, says Event Director Mike Hamel. “The athletes are pushing their physical and mental limits in this race. We want them to focus on their run rather than having to think about what will happen when they end up swimming in 6-degree cold water.”

“Some of the whitewater paddlers who participate in this World Championship run much higher waterfalls and even more extreme rivers on their expeditions around the world. But they do this maybe once in their life and time doesn’t matter”, explains Axel Burkhardt, Director adidas Global Sports Marketing Outdoor.

“The adidas Sickline tests the kayakers’ ability to not only get down one of the world’s most challenging rapids in one piece, but to do this fast as well. The 280-metre long racecourse demands everything in terms of skill and fitness from the athletes, meaning they have to retrieve their full potential to the point, run after run. They cannot afford the slightest mistake and they must be extremely fit, because the cruxes are located at the end of the course.”

All-around service for athletes

Before and after the competition, the adidas Sickline participants are truly pampered. Throughout the race weekend athletes can enjoy free physiotherapy and massages at the adidas Reload Center in the Expo Area. Former Canoe World Champion and butcher Uli Knittel caters for the physical well-being with his sumptuous dinner buffets and the hearty “Jackson Kayak” lunch.

Film producer Olaf Obsommer and other kayak celebrities present their latest movies at the Big-O Movie Night. And for all those who just can’t get enough, DJ Chainsaw is rocking the crowds at the legendary adidas Sickline Champions Party powered by at Jay’s Cantina in Oetz.

GoPro generates spectacular footage from athletes’ perspective

GoPro Inc., the manufacturer of small wearable and gear-mountable water- and shockproof POV cameras that are distributed in over 100 countries worldwide, is once again on board as official camera partner of the event. GoPro equips all finalists with a GoPro SESSION® helmet camera to generate new spectacular images of the World Championship race from the perspective of the competing athlete.

Live Broadcast and Livestream

The final of the adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship is broadcasted live on TV in several countries. Kayaking fans around the globe can also watch the race online on livestream.adidas-sickline.com. As in previous years, kayaking legend Ben Brown (NZL) will be the live commentator.

For more information, go to www.adidas-sickline.com

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