August 27, 2013
The author after the K-1 200 Meter Sprint
What to do with 37 elephants? Well, if it's 218 BC, the Second Punic War and you're the great Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca, you march an army of 25,000 men, supplies, pack animals, and the 37 elephants over the Alps. (Hannibal's uncle had told him an army marching behind a phalanx of elephants would be unstoppable.) In an attempt to defeat the Romans, Hannibal took his army from the Iberian Peninsula (southern Spain), over the Alps to the Po Valley in northern Italy. After a disastrous crossing in which he lost mny of his men and half his animals, Hannibal arrived in the vicinity of the current city of Turin. The ruins of Roman walls and towers can still be seen today in downtown Torino (For the sake of authenticity, I am using the city's Italian name). Although he won three victories in Italy, he was eventually defeated by Rome and died in exile.
In August 2013 Torino was invaded by another army: 19,700 athletes, ages 30 to 90+, from 80 countries competing in the World Masters Games (WMG). Like the Olympics, the WMG are held every four years in cities throughout the world. But unlike the Olympics, there are no qualifying standards; if you want to compete, you sign up and go. The jingoistic nationalism nipping at the edges of the Olympic Games simply does not exist in the WMG – no medal count by country, no marching under national flags, no national team uniforms. Competition in 29 sports is typically by 5-year age group (30-34, 35-39…80-84 etc.). Many of the sports include multiple disciplines. For example, Canoeing/Kayaking offers competition in sprint racing, marathon, whitewater slalom, and canoe polo.
This was my sixth WMG and I chose to compete in kayaking and tennis. In the kayaking, I planned to enter the two sprint races (200 meters and 1000 meters) and the marathon. The venue for the sprint races was Lake Candia a small lake about 45 kilometers north of Turin. Upon entering the race site, it was clear why Europeans have dominated sprint racing in the Olympics. Hundreds of brightly colored boats lined the shore from needle thin K-1s to long majestic C-4s. All canoes were the high-kneel variety with paddlers using a broad square-bladed paddle. There was not a "Canadian canoe" or bent shaft paddle to be seen. The 200 meter sprint was held in 90 degree heat. Because this race typically takes less than a minute, the heat should not have been a problem. However, the 30 to 45 minute wait before the each start meant cruising back and forth in the blazing sun.
The 8 lanes were well marked with a curious starting mechanism. Before each start an aluminum V-shaped bracket facing the paddler popped out of the water, otter-like, in front of each lane. The starter then called the boats in that heat to move to the starting line. The bow of each boat nestled into the "V". At the moment the starter shouted "GO" the "Vs" dropped below the surface of the lake and the race was on! The 14 padders in my age-group (70-74) raced in two heats. I qualified for the semi-finals in my heat and in the semi-final race I qualified for the finals where I was blown away, finishing 8 out of 8. Not surprisingly, Europeans dominated both the canoe and kayak classes in almost all the sprint races, just as they do the Olympic. In this sport, non-European medal winners are about as common as 20-game winners from Russia in major league baseball. The start lists and results for the K-1 200 meter sprints reflect this dominance. Of the 324 competitors in the 200 meter K-1 sprints, 54 were non-Europeans. In the 11 age-groups for men, there was only one non-European winner, Alexander Ambotas from the USA. Women accounted for 20 percent of the competitors; of those and more than a third were non-Europeans, mostly Canadians.
200 Meter K-1 Sprints
Gender/Age Competitors Winners
Men 30+ K-1 5 Kazimov (Russia) 00'42"42
Men 35+ K-1 32 Kopygin (Russia) 00'37"77
Men 40+ K-1 40 Dimitrov (Bulgaria) 00'38"18
Men 45+ K-1 40 Naguliak (Ukraine) 00'38"36
Men 50+ K-1 49 Solonovdikov (Russia) 00'41"24
Men 55+ K-1 32 Ambotas (USA) 00'39"90
Men 60+ K-1 23 Tadeusz (Poland) 00'43"88
Men 65+ K-1 16 Nekuchaiev (Ukraine) 00'48"05
Men 70+ K-1 15 Takacs (Hungary) 00'50"38
Men 75+ K-1 4 Schmidt (Germany) 00'55"47
Men 80+ K-1 1 Hladik (Czech) 01'13"08
Women 30+ K-1 3 Latterieur (Canada) 00'52"82
Women 35+ K-1 5 Nonno (Moldova) 00'47"94
Women 40+ K-1 6 Vernerova (Czech) 00'50"54
Women 45+ K-1 8 Antonova (Russia) 00'50"96
Women 50+ K-1 17 Tenna (Italy) 00'54"02
Women 55+ K-1 14 Mokryakova (Canada) 00'58"13
Woman 60+ K=1 6 Koller (Germany) 01'02"57
Women 65+ K-1 4 Scales (Denmark) 01'02"47
Women 70+ K-1 2 Kajner (Hungary) 01'05"70
Through a scheduling conflict, I was unable to compete in the 1000 meter sprints. My next kayak competition was the marathon.
The Po River, the site of the canoe/kayak marathon, flows from west to east more than 400 miles across northern Italy from its source at the foot of the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Through Torino the river is mostly slow and murky cluttered with leaves and twigs from the trees that overhang both banks. The weather had cooled and a brisk breeze ran up the river. The marathon consisted of a 4.7 km loop adjacent to the city's waterfront Valentino Park. Each loop included a mandatory portage of about 100 meters along a concrete pier. The two youngest age group (35+ and 40+) were required to complete six loops and five portages, a total of 28 km. All age groups over 45 completed three loops and two portages.
The best K-1 men's time for the three-loop course was 1 hour two minutes 52 seconds by 52-year old Redondo Vasquez of Spain. Victoria Lakomova, 48, of Russia had the best woman's K-1 time, 1 hour 16 minutes, 1 second. There were several DNFs by paddlers who flipped over at the start, or during the race, including one in my age group. The 70+ age group was won by Eckart Wirl of Germany in a time of 1 hour 18 minutes and 12 seconds. His brother, Volker, was second, five minutes later. My time of 1 hour 31 minutes and 36 seconds earned me 4th place. This was my highlight of the games. The day sparkled, the mood of the paddlers was consistently upbeat, and I felt my performance was reasonably good. These were certainly among of the best age-group paddlers in the world. Many of them have competed for their country and have been paddling most of their lives. Competing against them reminded me again of how exquisitely aging and excellence can be balanced.
Gender/Age Competitors Winners
Men 45+ K-1 12 Lee (Australia) 1h 03'34"36
Men 50+ K-1 20 Vasquez (Spain) 1h 02'52"69
Men 55+ K-1 17 Lucas (Spain) 1h 05'32"90
Men 60+ K-1 7 Tadeusz (Poland) 1h 09'41"71
Men 65+ K-1 6 Jorgensen (Denmark) 1h 09'45"38
Men 70+ K-1 4 Wirl (Germany) 1h 18'12"95
Men 75+ K-1 2 Bayer (Germany) 1h 24'42"06
Men 80+ K-1 1 Hladik (Czech)1h 43'31"00
Women 45+ K-1 4 Lakomova (Russia) 1h06'01"03
Women 50+ K-1 5 Tenna (Italy) 1h 07'49"46
Women 55+ K-1 4 Moller (Germany) 1h 20'38"26
Woman 60+ K=1 5 Scales (Denmark) 1h 23'40"84
The 2017 World Masters Games will be held in Auckland, New Zealand. I plan to be there.