The hard, beautiful sport of slalom | U23 World Champs 2016

After missing the qualification for our Senior national team in May of this year, the U23 worlds became the main focus of my season. The missed the opportunity to finish the 2014 worlds due to my dislocated shoulder, the 2015 world champs saw my other shoulder sublux one month before competition, but 2016, this year is the first time I’ve felt 100% with no shoulder pain and ready to perform.

Run 1 “Back In The Game”

The first run of qualifiers! What a thrill; I’ve rarely had the confidence and precision required to lay down any brilliant runs on the first round of qualifiers in past competitions but this run was a big step forward in believing I can perform on the first run. My coach continues to remind me these days: “If you paddle well and follow a nice style, you will be happy at the end of your run, and the results will come”. Keeping this advice in mind, I focused on driving the boat, holding posture, keeping my stroke consistent, and of course staying clean rather than looking for a specific result at the finish. I finished with a time of 89.58 + 2, which without this touch would have placed 18th and moving on to the semi-final. This particular touch hurts more than others….after turning to enter gate 13 precisely how I had planned, the left pole was already swinging, and in turn swung towards me as I entered the gate to hit me (look closely in the video). Unfortunately that is one of the hard, beautiful part of slalom that makes the sport feel so alive; You can’t dwell on it, you have to turn every aspect of uncertainty in this sport into an opportunity to learn. Moving forward something I will be working on is taking a fraction of a second in up streamsto spot my landing in the next gate so that I can read a swinging pole or anything else that is coming my way.

Here are the results and video.

Quals run 1 result

With the new slalom race progression system that started in 2015, 20 boats qualify on the first semi-final run, and 10 on the second semi-final run. Often enough your stress levels go up a little after missing qualification on the first run because it’s do or die to progress on the second run. To handle the pressure of second qualification runs in the future I’ll be following a motto my new German friend Stefan used going into his second runs: “Second run double fun!”. Love it.

Run 2 “Second Run, Double Fun”

With a very competitive time put down in my first run, some small mistakes to catch time on, and a swinging pole that would likely be still this time around I felt confident in qualifying for the semi-final on my second run. I reviewed video, did my dry-land warm up, flatwater warm up and was set to race. After getting on the water to do my final paddle down to the start line the race was put on hold due to a change in water levels. The level had dropped dramatically, and they would have to re-start the C1 Men U23 category when it had risen back up to ensure a fair playing field. The water came back to the same level as that morning, then dropped once again but remained consistently at that low-level so the race was back on. During this time I kept my back moving on a foam roller and stayed out of the sun ready to go at a moments notice. The time came, I got back in my boat, noticed the drop in the water and was unsure if they would delay again – it was moving forward and I felt ready regardless.

This run didn’t see the same smooth style I had found in the morning but it was certainly on time and getting the job done until gate 15-16. Too much edge applied in my spin, a silly touch, and an unfortunate collision with some underwater bollards due to the water level saw the run fall apart and placed me 14th, with a 92.62 + 2. Ahhh that’s racing right there. My first time finishing the world champs without qualifying for the semi-final, but also the best I’ve ever handled failure mentally. I transitioned from “this sucks” to “Next race!” within hours, and that’s something I’m really happy with.

Quals run 2 result

Final result: 34th. Thank you to my coach Anthony Colin, without whom I would certainly not have found myself back to being competitive on the world stage. Also a big thank you to Michael Holroyd, Tyler Lawlor, and Jiri Mackal for helping me prepare for this race.

I’m boarding a flight in 10 minutes to fly back home to Ottawa! Ecstatic to see my brother and send him off on his Olympic journey (Tomorrow night at the Happy Goat Roastery COME ON OUT). To support us on this crazy 2016 season go to – our recently launched fundraiser! We need more people to sign up for breakfast please, it’s the main reason I wanted to run this thing. People love breakfast, we make great breakfast, we’ll wear our plaid onesies, it’s a win win win.

Thanks for following and see you on the river!



author: Liam Smedley

Loves photography, outdoors tripping, crafting coffee & brewing kombucha. Frequently found in his hammock by the river.


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