Becoming the female Junior Freestyle Kayak World Champion

A month ago I left England for the official ICF Freestyle Kayak World Championship in Argentina and returned this week with the title of female Junior Freestyle Kayak World Champion.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of such a success in words. My goal was to win the title and there was not one minute outside of school that I did not dedicate to training both mentally and physically.

The journey out to Argentina was tricky. The plane returned back to Heathrow for an emergency landing with the pilot dumping fuel and Emergency services were waiting for us on the runway. Twenty four hours later we started again and arrived in Chile to travel across the Andes to Argentina. The border had been closed for a couple of days due to snow. The abundance of wildlife and breath-taking mountains are images I will never forget.

On arrival in San Juan I volunteered with the other GB juniors to visit local schools in the area and encourage kayaking. One school was an independent school mad on sports who are visiting London next year. We will host an evening for them at Lee Valley Olympic whitewater centre.

Training was easy and enjoyable the first week but as time went by more kayakers turned up and the water was incredibly busy. By the third week team training was designated for one hour a day to each country which amounted to three minutes each for the Brits. The only solution was late evening and middle of the night training on the water. Pitch black kayaking did not stop me.

The opening ceremony was a fabulous event. The Argentinians are friendly, full of fun and dance. It was wonderful to walk with the GB team. After the vibrant parade there was a huge circle where people (and kayakers) were tossed high up into the air by cheer leaders.

On competition week every kayaker got into their zone. My focus at first was to get through all the rounds and then concentrate on winning in the final. There was a lot of media attention on me as the newcomer challenging the Americans. I surprised everyone with a last minute decision to borrow a squirt boat and compete with the seniors. I managed to get to the semi finals. This gave me a taste of actual competing and allowed me to get used to the routine at the competition site.  Freestyle prelims and the semi finals went well and I won a silver medal. The night before finals the best advice I was given was to go to bed thinking of exactly what I wanted to achieve the next day.

The morning of the finals was painfully boring and time seemed to go by very slowly, but soon enough the afternoon arrived and I was on the water about to have three runs with my highest score counting. I’d been at the top of the leader board for the whole final but I didn’t have the final ride in the heat and knew it was down to the performance of the final contestant (the current world champion). It was a nervous few minutes as we waited to hear the results. The announcement of the final results was a surreal moment – seeing the results and realising I had won the world championships.

The closing ceremony was a joy. I was on the podium with a gold medal flanked by two highly respected American freestyle kayakers. I could not stop smiling.

Team GB topped the medal count bringing home three golds, two silvers and two bronzes. To have the opportunity to mix with different cultures, kayak with them, compete with them and know that anywhere I travel in the world to white water I will bump into someone I know is a great feeling.

By Ottilie Robinson-Shaw, Year 11 Student and Female Junior Freestyle Kayak World Champion