Unearthing our future world champions on three continents

While the biggest names in world paddling are taking some hard-earned time out to recover from another grueling season of competition, in three unusual locations on the canoe slalom globe the future of the sport is quietly stirring to life.

Algeria, Argentina and the Philippines – three countries with what, at best, could be described as a limited canoe slalom history, are currently the focus points in the International Canoe Federation’s dream to make the sport truly global.

The Talent Identification Program run by the ICF is constantly evolving, looking for new athletes, new venues and new ways to make the sport attractive.

Pierrick Gosselin, one of the driving forces behind TIP, says the ‘Three Continents’ program, as it’s become known, is all about preparing athletes for their next major continental event.

“Africa is the Youth African Games, South America is the Pan Am Games, and then Asia is the Asian Games and South East Asian Games,” Gosselin said.

“We are really trying to bring the knowledge to the paddlers, but then give more attention to what we can give to the paddlers who are on the edge of becoming coaches in their country. We will try to find the people to do the job other than us.

“We want to give them the opportunity to paddle slalom more, even if it is on the flatwater, but also to take care of younger ones and to develop their coaching skills.”

DIVERSITY

The three camps will all provide something different. In the Philippines, for example, the format will focus mainly on the Youth Olympic Games discipline.

“It will be a mixed camp, with one side the YOG format because Philippines is new into slalom,” Gosselin said. 

“It will be the first ever slalom camp in the Philippines. They want to send some paddlers to Barcelona for the YOG selection trials. 

“It will also be regular slalom camp because the Philippines will host the South East Asian Games in 2019, so we will try and include slalom in those Games. 

“It’s the beginning of the slalom story in the Philippines.”

It’s all about tapping into the local conditions, and finding a program that also appeals to the athletes and the coaches.

The TIP has been to every continent so far, and no two venues are the same.

“Development has to adapt to whatever the current situation is in the country or the region,” Gosselin said. 

“For example, it would not be very clever to adopt ocean racing in Nepal.

“In Oceania, we have Australia and New Zealand, but to get other countries like Guam and Fiji etc the idea was to use the YOG format, because that fits better with what is happening on the Continent.

"Even if we keep the same goal of developing the canoe activity, we have to adapt the tool we use to do that.”

MAXIME RAUX

The man at the helm for the Three Continent program is Frenchman Maxime Raux, himself a journeyman who has paddled all over the world.

While he’s never competed at the very top, Gosselin said Raux brings a lot of skill and knowledge to the TIP.

“We don’t need to have a background as a high level paddler to be a good developer,” he said. 

“We need a wider view of how to develop canoeing activity, more than being completely specialised in one discipline.

“We need someone who has the widest view of canoeing, because they need to be able to adapt to any kind of situation.”

Raux, who spends his European summers working for a rafting company in the French Alps, is a natural fit for TIP.

“I did slalom and canoe polo, and now I do sea kayaking and whitewater kayaking in expedition, not competition,” Raux said.

“I like to teach and share my passion. To do that in other countries is very exciting. I like to share my knowledge and my experience.

“I just want the paddlers to enjoy the classes. The main target is to begin the development, which will give the athletes and coaches a chance to go further next year. It can give them a kick start.”

The other important quality needed by coaches is patience; not with the athletes themselves, who are usually more enthusiastic than it’s thought possible, but with the facilities and the infrastructure.

“The development of this sport can seem frustrating when you arrive and there is nothing there except the goodwill and the motivation of the people,” Gosselin said. 

“In South America, for example, there are a lot of paddlers, but they don’t really paddle in the frame of the Federations or any official competitions.

“It is a part of the job when you are a developer to help give a structure to that, a spine. It might look frustrating for most of the people, but when you get into the development process you don’t look for this, but it is not really inconvenient.

“This is something you know you will have to face, and then you have to try and find some solutions for that. If we are frustrated because of the lack of facilities, that means we miss the best part of being a developer, to create and allow people to create the surroundings for proper activity.”

MOTIVATION

It’s why Gosselin and his team have one important rule for potential inductees into the TIP – must have enthusiasm and drive.

“The most frustrating thing on my side is when people are not motivated, when they feel like this is an obligation. This is really frustrating,” Gosselin said.

“As long as people want, after that it is just technical issues and problems – how many boats can we get, do we have to use slalom boats or do we have to use polo boats – all these things.

“But part of the job is to try and find answers for all these questions.”

Twelve athletes and six coaches took part in the first camp in Algeria, and similar numbers are expected in Argentina, which is running alongside the 2017 World Freestyle Kayak Championships in San Juan.

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