Rebecca Giddens writes about her whitewater slalom racing adventures
leading up to the 2004 Olympic Games...
July 15, 2004
Hope this finds you all in good health. Mass emailingÖ.. this is a first for
me. Iíd love to contact each of you individually but living on the road in
foreign countries with sixteen paddlers that are all training/racing can get a
little crazy. So I apologize but know that I miss all of my family and friends
When all is said and done, Iíll have been on the road for two and a half
months. Eric and I headed over to Europe on June 17. We left a couple of days
earlier then the rest of the team for a little fun side trip. Our good Czech
friends (Votej and Veronica) tied the knot in Prague. Eric was on the junior
slalom team at the same time as Votej and I was on the junior team with
veronica, so it was very special to have been able to attend. However not a
good start to a training camp (the Czechs know how to have a good time.)
Onwards to Athens. At three in the morning Eric and I left the wedding to
drive back to the Munich airport so we could catch our flight to Athens for a
two week training camp. Other then being a little sleepy for the first few
days, the camp went well. The course is artificial; the water is pumped up from
the sea and then held in a reservoir where it is recirculated
through the course in the shape of a figure eight. Itís crazy, we actually
paddle over and under the river! Because itís salt water, artificial and pushy
(difficult), the course takes some getting use to. But oh man, itís awesome,
definitely on my top three list of favorite slalom courses.
In Greece, we were able to see a few sites thanks to Mr. Energy. Eric is so
use to being the athlete on a trip and now heís jumped into the fulltime
coaching position (for those that may not already know, Eric was asked to be one
of the three coaches for the Olympics). So that means not the same level of
physical activity that heís use to. We had a few half
days off during our training and Eric made sure that we took full advantage of
them. Twice we headed to Aegina, a beautiful island about ten miles off the
coast of Athens. The islandís about fifteen miles long by 4 miles wide with a
number of small towns/villages on it. In order to experience Aegina properly we
decided that renting scooters was a necessity. What a blast it was; cruising
town to town, stopping to swim, seeing some ancient ruins and finishing up with
a nice seafood dinner on the water all in time to be back ďhomeĒ for a good
nights sleep before the next workout. What I may have lost from lack of rest
was made up by feeling mentally fresh on the course in Athens.
On July 3, Eric headed back to the United States to work on his dissertation
and I headed back to Prague for a World Cup. Itís always good to be back in
Prague, it one of the most beautiful (along with that comes touristy) towns in
the world. The course in Prague is the exact opposite of the course in Athens.
The water is much smaller, which means I can't rely on it to help take me to
the next gate very quickly. Instead Iíve got to paddle my booty off to get
anywhere. Itís quite similar to the course in South Bend, Indiana. Same color
too, brown. But brown and very dirty! So
dirty that the night before the Finals, I spent on the ďporcelain godĒ being
sick. Unfortunately it didnít stop until twenty-four hours later. It was a
first, and hopefully last, for me to race with a bug (coincidently, Eric
experienced the same thing in 1995 at a World Cup in Prague, nasty water). I did
debate even racing. I even sent the car to the course on without me
and stayed in the room with my new best friend. Then an hour before I was to
leave the start gate for my run, I decided to take the trolley to the course and
see if Iíd miraculously recover. Well that didnít happen. Thirty minutes before
my run I arrived at the course. Usually I arrive at least two hours before my
run to warm up, watch video, study the course and
get ready. This time I didnít even look at the course (however I did watch the
demonstration runs the day before so I did know where to go). I took fifteen
minutes to get dressed (usually a thirty second ordeal) and fifteen minutes to
try and warm up in my boat all the while still trying to figure out if this was
a good idea. Finally I decided I might as well go and made a plan to just try
and nail the moves and not to even try and paddle hard because that wasnít an
option. I truly expected a disastrous run but to my surprise, it was fine.
While my stroke rate was no where near at its potential, I did every move
technically well which put me in fourth place. However making the Finals (top
ten) was a catch 22. I was so happy to have paddled well but couldnít imagine
doing it again in three hours. I spent the time in-between runs dead to the
world on the physio table (except for the frequent dashes to the bathroom).
Again, fifteen minutes before my run,
I made it to my boat to try and warm up. It was very embarrassing, many
families/people were watching the girls warm up and there I was throwing up
overboard. Iím sure they thought Ďpoor thing must be nervousí or Ďthese slalom
athletes have serious eating disordersí. Another unexpected surprise on my
second run, it also went fine besides a couple of touches.
My final result was fourth place. Usually fourth place stinks however this was
my proudest fourth place.
Immediately after the race, we packed up and drove to Augsburg, Germany (the
longest four hours of my life) were the next World Cup will take place. Iíll
write again and give you all an update on how that goes. Hopefully it wonít
drag out like this, sorry for that.
A million thanks to all of you for your support. Knowing that youíre all out
there helps keep me going each day. I don't have every one's address so feel
free to forward this on to those who may be interested.
posted with Rebecca's permission 08/04/04
July 26, 2004
On to the next World Cup: Augsburg Germany. By Monday morning after the
Prague World Cup, I was much perkier. I went right into Monday morning's
workout of half-length courses feeling fatigued from a lack of food but good
considering my previous state. Last year the 2003 World Championships took
place in Augsburg so it was a comfortable course to come back to. Our team has
spent months training on the "Eis Kanal" (that's the local name for the course)
in preparation for numerous international races. You'd imagine that after
months of training and racing on a course that one would have it wired. Untrue,
it takes years! At least for me it does! The course was built for the 1972
Munich Olympic Games. Other then shortening the course (moving the start
downstream from the original start) it hasn't had any drastic changes done to
it. So you can imagine that the technology for artificial courses has improved
significantly over the years. While the Eis Kanal is most definitely World
Class material, it does take time to learn all of its secrets. Many people
refer to the course as being similar to a bathtub. Strange, I know but somewhat
true. It has a very smooth bottom and the edges of the river are solid concrete
so there is nowhere for the water to disperse when it hits the sides or bottom.
Imagine yourself as a kid (or an adult if you're like me and still love baths)
swirling the water around and how it bounces off the sides swooshing from one
side to the next causing soft harmless boils, now you're on the "Eis Kanal".
inconsistent in a very consistent sort of way. Those that have spent years
training there learn exactly what strokes to take or what edges to put down.
Those of us that haven't grown up training/racing on this course learn to react
to the ever-changing features.
Slalom is a popular sport in Germany. The town of Augsburg likes to make
a big deal out of the race; live music, live television, food stands,
merchandise vendors, huge crowds of people and they stretch the race out into
three days of racing rather than the traditional two-day format. It's great for
the spectators but it can be a little stressful on the athletes.
On the Qualifier day (Friday), I ended up in 12th place. On my first run, I
missed gate 6 and had a long loop to get back to it. The really frustrating
part was that the gate I missed was the same gate/move as the one I looped
during the Worlds last year. However, this time I missed the gate to the
opposite side as the year before by overcompensating for my previous years
mistake. After first runs I was sitting in about 26th place (they only take the
top 30 to go into the semifinals) and didn't have a clue how to do gate 6 for my
next runs. Where's Eric when I need him. After watching multiple people do the
move in person, watching video, talking with different athletes and then to
Silvan (our national team coach), I finally come up with a plan, but I was still
not very confident. When I don't understand how to do a move and have to put
all of my trust in other people's advice, I get really nervous. And nervous is
exactly what I felt for my second run. Luckily the move is at the beginning of
the course and I could finally breath when I made the gate with flying colors on
my second run.
On to the semifinals and finals. I ended up placing 5th overall (maybe I
should race sick more often, In Prague I was 4th with the flu. After the race a
Czech friend (Pavel Yanda) asked how my run went. I said 'alright, I ended up
5th'. It's not normal for him to give advise but he replied ' it's not about
your place, first or last, it's the feeling you had. In your
heart specifically'. What he said really had an impression on me because the
feeling I had at the finish was excellent. I knew it wasn't a winning run but I
felt I had done some really good things technically and I was so moved by my
teammates. They ran me down from top to bottom cheering me on with everything
they had. Our team is so supportive of each other and it really does help to go
out there and race for them as well as myself. I replied to Pavel, 'Then my run
After the race Scotty, Brett, (our Olympic kayaks), Silvan and I went to
Solkan, Slovenia for a week of recovery before the Olympics while the rest of
the team headed to Bourg, France for the last World Cup. Our coach, Silvan is
from Slovenia so we are staying at his home for the week. It's been very
mentally relaxing here. In between training sessions we've gone hiking up in
the Alps (hiking has always been a natural healing remedy to lower my stress).
The mountains are gorgeous; the river we're training on (the Soca) is crystal
clear, the people of the area and very welcoming. This area is an unfound gem.
Not a bad place to hang for a few days. Tomorrow we'll fly back to Athens. It's
hard to believe how fast the summer is flying by, three more weeks until The
Games begin! I'll write again to let you all know how everything is going.
Thanks so much for the wonderful emails, I love hearing how you all are doing.
It truly makes my day, week,
posted with Rebecca's permission 08/04/04
Gidden's Racing Bio
Olympic Team Trials Interview with Rebecca Giddens
Rebecca Giddens paddling toward an Olympic medal her whole