Portugal's 'Carnival of Canoeing' set to be month to remember

If hosting one ICF World Championships will give you sleepless nights, what will hosting two in less than a month do to your sleep patterns – especially if you set yourself the target of hosting the best canoe events ever?

Later this year we will have the answer, but if the early signs coming out of Portugal are anything to go by, the world championships held over August-September are certain to be memorable.

When you also add the inaugural ICF Stand Up Paddling World Championships to the mix, set down for Esposende and Viana Do Castelo in Portugal in August, you have the makings of a festival of canoeing not seen before in the sport.

It’s a big ask – hosting the ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships in Montemor from August 23, and the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Prado Vila Verde from September 6. But the Portuguese team is confident it will deliver.

“We are preparing a big campaign, never done before here in Portugal regarding canoeing and also not much seen abroad,” Marcos Oliveira, Secretary General of the Portuguese Canoe Federation, said.

“Our goal is to fill the stands with public and attract them with the promise of watching the best paddlers in universe.

“Many many surprises are still to come. The goal is to give teams the importance they deserve and create the best possible conditions in the space where they will be during a week fighting for more than 40 world titles.”

CHALLENGES

Along with the usual trials and tribulations that come with organising a major international event, there’s an extra complication for Portugal. Montemor, a world-class venue with outstanding facilities and easy access, has a wind problem.

Of course, being an outdoor sport, canoe sprint athletes are adept at dealing with whatever Mother Nature serves up. But that hasn’t stopped Oliveira and his team from exploring new ways to reduce the effects of the crosswind at this year’s World Championships.

“Our main challenge is the wind and a solution is under development since the beginning of this year,” Oliveira said.

“We are putting poles in the north shore and they will connect 7,5m high panels in order to reduce the wind at the course. We are also improving the 200m start house, as well as the 500 and 750 split timing positions.”

It’s the attention to detail that Oliveira believes will make this year’s sprint and marathon world championships special. And he wants the events to be cutting edge.

He’s talked with canoe marathon organisers about changing the circuit to make it more crowd-friendly, and has put forward new rules and new guidelines he hopes will be accepted in the coming weeks.

PIMENTA

At the heart of promotional plans for the big events will be 2012 canoe sprint Olympic silver medallist and 2017 World Champion, Fernando Pimenta.

Pimenta, who also won a K1 1000 silver medal alongside his K1 5000 gold at last year’s World Championships, will very much be the ‘face’ of this year’s canoe sprint titles.

It’s the price he is happy to pay for being, alongside teammate Emanuel Silva, Portugal’s only ever Olympic medallist. In fact, Pimenta and Silva were Portugal’s only medallists in London.

Not surprisingly, Oliveira and his team have big plans for the 28-year-old, including possibly channeling Jon Snow...

“Fernando is our best-known athlete at the moment here in Portugal,” Oliveira said.

“We have this plan to use a “Game of Thrones” theme with Fernando, adapted to canoeing. The goal is to use his image within a medieval theme in order to promote the event nationally and internationally.

“We are also creating a mascot based on Pimenta called Pimentinha (“little Pimenta”) that will tour around the country for the next months, and it will be there on the venue during the event, encouraging people to cheer for the athletes and making troubles.”

Portugal Fernando Pimenta

SPECTATORS

Build it, and will they come? Oliveira readily admits there are challenges in a country where people are passionate about sport, but mostly just one.

But all the ingredients for an enjoyable spectator experience will be in place; the best athletes in the world, perfect weather, first class facilities, easy access and, importantly, very reasonable priced tickets.

“The sports culture in Portugal is not as strong as in many other countries,” Oliveira lamented.

“All attention is given to soccer, but we are fighting it by promoting the event nationally and by greatly improving the conditions at the venue for the public. 

“We will also set a price table for the event tickets. The prices will be very low and the profit will be donated to a social service association, but the idea is to give a greater importance to the event and have the major online ticket system in the country selling those and promoting it.

“Normal daily entrance will be 3 euros.”

It will be important to start the “carnival of canoe” on a positive, so a lot of time and effort is being put into the canoe sprint and paracanoe opening ceremony. Oliveira has been to canoeing opening ceremonies all over the world, and he has a picture in his own mind what Portugal needs to strive for. 

“We want to raise the level,” he said.

“Since the Szeged (Hungary) event in 2011, the organisers have not held ceremonies at the level the sprint senior championships deserve - memorable and unique.

“So, we are making our best efforts and doing great investments to hold an opening ceremony full of surprises on August 21 at 20:30 at the Castle of Montemor. No one can miss it.”

FUTURE LEGACY 

So the wish-list is there, and growing all the time. But as Oliveira points out, with hosting a World Championships comes enormous responsibility, not just to the sport, but also the host town and country, to the spectators, the officials and the athletes.

When the final canoe is loaded onto a trailer and driven out of the Prado Vila Verde carpark in early September, Oliveira does not want to hear “if only”. All the bases will be covered well before the promised eye-popping opening at Montemor Castle.

2018 will be hard work, but there is cautious optimism it will be the start of a new era for the sport of canoeing in Portugal.

“We need to improve the conditions in the venue at Montemor, especially the wind barrier, and have the goal of having our stands full of people, like we saw in Racice last year,” he said.

“I thought it was incredible and it stayed in my memory, just like the 2011 event. So, I ask: if they can do it why can’t we? 

“We hope that these two World Championships will boost canoeing in Portugal and help it become a more popular sport in the country. We also hope that it will bring more financial support to Portuguese canoeing in the near future.” 

The 2018 ICF Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe World Championships will be held between August 23-26 at Montemor O Velho.

The 2018 ICF Stand Up Paddling World Championships will be held between August 30 and September 2 at Esposende and Viana Do Castelo.

The 2018 ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships and Masters World Championships will be held between September 3 and 9 at Prado Vila Verde.

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