While this week we celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the Olympic debut of canoe slalom at the historic Augsburg Ice Channel, and the athlettes and officials who took part in that historic moment, there are a handful of participants from an earlier event on course.. Hermann Schmid from the Augsburg media team caught up with Heiner Stumpf. 

“The old Eiskanal was no easier to paddle than the new one,"  Heiner Stumpf noted.

He has to know, because 65 years ago the man from Celle won team gold in the C1 canoe competition at the first canoe slalom world championships in Augsburg. Now he has returned to the Eiskanal for the 2022 Canoe Slalom World Championships, the world's first artificial whitewater course built for the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Previously, from the 1950s to 1971, the whitewater course in the south of Augsburg consisted of the Hauptstadtkanal flowing towards the city and the Eiskanal leading to the Lech – canals that had already been created in the 19th century. Canoe enthusiasts had installed wooden deflectors in it after 1945, which made the water faster, and wooden sleepers that produced stoppers.

In the last section towards the Lech, the Eiskanal had a gradient of four to five meters on about 200 meters. "Shortly before the Lech, the canal got narrow, so the water became fast, a rock was installed, which produced a 1.5 meter high wave, and behind it a violent stopper", says Heiner Stumpf.

In 1957, the then 21-year-old started with his brother Otto, who was four years his junior, and with Günther Beck from Kassel. Their victory in Augsburg was surprising because they won in front of the favoured canoeists from Czechoslovakia. The trio from northern Germany came from regions that were not known for their whitewater training opportunities.

"After the victory, we were interviewed by a young radio reporter", recalls Heiner Stumpf, "his name was Harry Valerien."

"A major reason for our success at that time were our boats", explains Stumpf.

"A year earlier, as a 16-year-old, he (brother Otto) began to build whitewater boats made of polyester, the shape of which he could better adapt to the requirements of the whitewater courses of the time. These canoes had less volume and were therefore more mobile."

In addition, they had trained their endurance and paddle techniques extensively on the still water of the Aller near Celle. With his brother Otto – who, by the way, later, as a doctor of chemistry, built dozens of other boats for himself and club colleagues – and changing partners, Heiner Stumpf won two silver medals at later World Championships.

In 1962, he received the Silver Laurel Leaf from the German Federal President for excellent sporting achievements. The fact that the success in Augsburg could not have been solely due to the new boats is shown by Heiner Stumpf's sporting record; when he ended his career as a C1 specialist in 1967, he had won, among other things, 25 German championship single titles and with the team, in slalom and in whitewater racing.

In Augsburg, Heiner Stumpf talked to the German canoe team on Wednesday after the C1 team competition, which it had finished in the unfortunate 4th place after having touched some poles.

"In our time, the poles were only five centimeters above the water," he told Franz Anton, Timo Brummer and Sideris Tasiadis.

"We had to go through the poles with our boats completely, not pass underneath like you do today.

"I would like to paddle down the Eiskanal in a boat from back then to experience how these canoeists feel on the whitewater," said Franz Anton from the Leipzig Canoe Club - a desire that Heiner Stumpf unfortunately cannot fulfill – the boats of that time are all sold or disposed of.

A few years after his whitewater career, Heiner Stumpf switched to a sport that, in his opinion, bears a great resemblance to it – hunting. On a fast ride through forest and field, over ditches and oxers behind a pack of dogs, mobility and a sense of balance are required in a similar way as on whitewater.

Both sports, as is evident during the 86-year-old's visit to the Augsburg Eiskanal, have kept Heiner Stumpf remarkably fit into his advanced age.

Words by Hermann Schmid

Pic by Michael Neumann

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