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Bratislava battle for Cele, Watson

Beiijing Olympian Siboniso ‘Master’ Cele and national champion Michael Watson both had a difficult weekend at the second international Slalom World Cup of the year, held in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Racing against the world’s best slalom paddlers, and in particular the powerhouse Europeans, both were eliminated during the heats at the weekend. The pair were simply happy to have got onto the course as there were threats earlier in the week that the event would be cancelled due to high water levels.

Watson has been in Europe for more than two weeks now, and also competed in the first Slalom World Cup in Pau, France over the 27th and 28th of June. In what was his first senior international competition, he was also eliminated after the heats. Watson won the National Championships on the Ash River outside Bethlehem in April, and races in the K1 class where paddlers sit down in the kayak and use a double-sided paddle.

The third-year UCT student battles to find realistic training conditions in the Western Cape, and spends many weekend’s driving with his father chasing the rain and looking for full rivers.

Meanwhile, Cele only arrived in Europe last Thursday having missed the first World Cup after problems with his passport. Cele competes in the C1 class, which involves kneeling in the canoe and using a one-sided paddle. He is one of the stalwart members of the Dihlabeng Canoe Club, based on the Ash River in the Free State and home to over 20 eager slalom paddlers. The duo is part of the select South African team of paddlers funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund with the goal of competing at the London, 2012 Olympics.

While both are still relatively new to the gruelling international slalom scene, Cele has the upper hand internationally having competed in the Beijing Olympics last year. Both have joined the slalom circuit to soak in everything they can, and take as much experience from the world stage as possible.

ÔÇ£For the World Cup in Pau, France I was really nervous. I hadn’t ever paddled on the course and training the week leading up to the race was difficult, especially trying to get used to the fast, surging water,ÔÇØ said Watson afterwards. ÔÇ£I found my problem with nerves carried over to the second World Cup in Bratislava, where yet again I had not seen or paddled on the course. Even though we on had two days training on the big water, I found I adapted quicker.ÔÇØ

The pair are coached and managed by Frenchman Jean-Jerome Perrin, and will be hoping these first steps lay a solid foundation for the next three years of training.

The slalom tour moves to Augsburg in Germany this coming weekend for the third and final World Cup. All the paddlers will be looking for more seeding points to gain entry to the World Championships, which will take place in Spain in early September. The South Africans are looking forward to the experience, and Watson has already shifted focus to the event. ÔÇ£The last one is here already and I’m excited to see another new course and finally get to paddle in Augsburg! We’ll see how the training goes leading up to it and hopefully show some more improvement.ÔÇØ