I was so delighted to be given the opportunity to attend the Russian national competitions. And although I only attended the Sprint and the beginning of the H2H, the very fact that I was there was a dream come true for me.
Due to the language barrier and that the Russian teams are not so active on common social networks, for me, their national teams and their work in general, is a great unknown. But from time to time some video footage and photos come up, so I was intrigued by all of this and so had this incredible desire to attend at least one national competition.
Deep in Siberia, more than 4000 km from Moscow, near the border with Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China, in the Republic of Altai, Ongudaiski region, on the pearl of Altai region – the majestic Katun River (Ilgumensky, Kadrinskay, Sabas rapids), far from civilization, this competition was held. Because the location is so specific, and since there is no light pollutants, at night is possible to see the Milky Way and the landscape is breathtaking.
It was an R4/6 qualification for the WRC in UAE 2016 and Japan 2017 and so gathered the best from Sankt Peterburg, Novosibirsk, Altai, Krasnoyarsk and Ryazanskaya region. Captains’ meetings with them is such that the representatives of these regions participate on behalf of the teams. The opening ceremony was designed to be on a small plateau above the river (I have to mention that the Katun River cuts through the plateau surrounded by mountains, hence the height difference in relation to the river), around the circle, which is divided by regions, where competitors stand side by side, listening to the national anthem, the introductory words of the organisers, Head Judge of Russian Rafting Champs -Nikolai Degtyarev, and distinguished guests followed by an entertainment program and then all the races.
The Katun River is so wide and massive that one has to see it to believe it. The start of the Sprint, H2H and Slalom was a little bit upstream from the infamous Ilgumensky rapids, which are by the way so technically good that it belongs amongst the best in Europe. The waves were so big that my problem while taking photos was that the teams disappeared behind the waves – now you see them, now you don’t. I didn’t get to paddle that part of the river, but observing from the shore was enough to conclude that it is a technically demanding fun, run. At the end of the rapid is a hole that some did not manage to escape and were flipped. During the sprint there some who fell out from the raft, but returned to the boat with such skill that fascinated me. Believe me you do not want to swim down those rapids, and the behaviour of the participants in this situation showed the high level of training.
Let’s move on to the next thing that I was also fascinated by, as were those others with me from Argentina, Costa Rica, England, Bosnia. They carry the rafts from the Finish line to the Start again – by themselves!!! Yes, folks, each team carried their raft from the Finish to the Start by themselves, and this is one of the remotest and wildest terrains for transferring rafts that I have seen and the distance was so big. So often teams complain if they must just pull the raft out of the water, let alone carry it to the Start again. There were no complaints, and this is considered normal, so it does make one wonder about their success at the World level, maybe there tougher selections work! I’ll also add that each team brings their own raft to the competition.
Start of the H2H was on the right bank for both rafts, and before even reaching the rapid it was known who would win. This was because racing parallel through the rapids had the risk of flipping and falling into a big hole at the end of the route, which, logically, no one wanted to do.
One after the other the teams paddled this part of the river equally well in both R4 and R6 composition. The youth particularly delighted me with their performance on such a demanding track and I must mention in particular the young women’s teams.
Regardless that I only saw a small part of their nationals, I will not stop dreaming to go back there again and see the Slalom and Downriver part of the race – to see it all, and to paddle that part of Katun River, and to sleep in the camp under the Milky Way.
I hope that this article will motivate teams in Russia to be more active on social networks so we can see more of their activities and get to know them better.