We arrived late on the Friday evening 7 days before competing started in Krupa, Bosnia. We were once again staying with our Bosnian friends Mr and Mrs Samara who put us up at the World Championships in 2009. Their generosity was fantastic as they opened two floors of their home to us, which was nestled into the hillside of a picturesque, forested Bosnian valley on the banks of the River Vrbas.
This year we have been very lucky to have Deb Cook as our coach, ably assisted by deputy coach five month old Alfie Bo! Sunday was our first day training on the river Vrbas as a six, learning the lines for the endurance race in a weeks time. Sadly, though, we were missing one team mate, Naomi, who unfortunately suffered an injury back home in Wales, which meant she couldn’t come out to Bosnia at all. We made a promise to get some podium action in her honour. And we didn’t disappoint!
Monday saw training continue in earnest. We started practicing the sprint and head to head river section, learning where the fast water was, the best lines, and also thinking about tactics we might need to use if we didn’t end up where we wanted to be on the river. The forecast was all lovely sunny days and it was hot and wonderful! Rafting in the sunshine beats winter training sessions in North Wales or Nottingham and it definitely makes all the hard work worth it!
The first day of racing got underway on the Friday following our arrival. But the sunshine was gone and instead we had a canopy of very British looking clouds and pouring rain on the river. Lucky for us this gave us the home advantage and we had plenty of 9bars on hand to keep us fueled up and energised throughout the morning. We had drawn lots to arrange the starts and we were eighth off the start line. Coach Deb and assistant coach Alfie Bo, kept our race nerves safely on the bankside for us whilst we went to put down our Timetrial run.
We had prepared our Sprint run by all agreeing on the line, together we picked points at which to aim at and we all ensured the raft moved in that direction. We achieved our perfect line but unfortunately we crossed the finish 0.52 of a second behind Russia 1, but still gave us an amazing Silver medal! We reviewed the run and agreed we did the best we could have done.
With the starts for the Head to Head Race determined by your timetrial performance we needed to get focused and put our minds to the next races.
Head to Head is an exciting event in itself. Two Rafts race against each other to be first and it is a knockout race. We did not want to get knocked out, and we wanted to add a more yellow coloured medal to our beautiful Silver one we had just earned!
Our strategy to move forward in the Head 2 Head race was to concentrate on a clean start without a battle and that is exactly what we did!
First off we met Bulgaria, who put up a good race but in the end our start was too powerful to match. Riding on the back of this success we headed straight back to the top, refuelling along the way with our favourite 9bars! This time we were up against Hungary and intel from Coach Deb warned us they could be up for a good fight, so now more than ever our fast start was crucial. Having avoided a battle in our previous round we ensured ourselves lane choice by having the fastest time. They couldn't get near enough for their race plan to be realised and we had another clean and fast sprint ensuring us a minimum Silver medal. This led to the final against Italy who have improved significantly since our last meeting at the European Championships in Slovakia. We knew they also had a fast start so the pressure was on! Keeping a cool head and focusing on our ultimate goal of winning Gold we exploded off the start line. They kept close on our tail as we took the lead and once we were in the rapid we quickly pulled away and took the Gold!
Smiles all round. What a great start to these Championships. Two medals in one day!
We had such great support for the British teams in Bosnia, from the other competitors and also the Bosnian army; who had been drafted in to help with logistics and photo opportunities!
That evening we had the medal ceremony where we got to sing our national anthem. But then it was time to head home for an early night to prepare for day two - flood lit Slalom in the canyon!
After the two very shiny medals won in our first races we wanted to keep up the momentum and keep on winning! Not least because of our fans in the Bosnian Army!
Saturday brought with it our Slalom Event. To make it as accessible for spectators as possible the organisers had decided to run it as an afternoon and evening event. This meant that the top teams in the Open category would be racing under the flood lights. In 2014 Bosnia had some devastating floods and so all the spectators stands had been washed away. This meant the only place for people to watch was from the road. So the organisers closed the entire road for the whole event. 'Not a problem', you may say, well, it was the main road to Sarajevo!
Some of the team spent the day taking their mind off the event and went to explore Banja Luka the local city, whilst the less fortunate team members (Bry and Fran) who had accidentally drunk some river water had to stay home to get better for the evening. But the time to race came around soon enough. We had planned it all to a 'T' and set off to watch some teams, talk our lines, then warm up, then get on and smash it!
Our first run wasn't as tidy as we had hoped. An early mistake unsettled the whole raft and it took a while to regain our composure. Getting off that run, we had a re-think and good chat and decided we were not going to let ourselves down. We got on for our second run and, despite missing the second gate, we dug deep to find that steely British determination and recovered the run in style. We got off the river really happy with our run. We did have to put in a protest as one of the judges had scored us a further missed gate, but with the video evidence we had, our protest was upheld meaning we were the rightful winners of the Bronze medal for Slalom!
All of this put us in a fantastic position for the final race of the event on the Sunday: the Downriver race. There would be 2 pods of 5 with ourselves in 2nd place in the top pod. We had proved that we had a fast start, so we were confident of our ability to get out in front. The Downriver race was a 14km stretch of mostly flat ‘boily’ water ending though the rapids on the slalom course and most importantly at the bar!
As predicted our start was incredibly strong, we left the 1st position Italians for dust and set of down the river protecting our lead and trying to stay as far ahead as we could. Sadly it was not to be, the Russian team overtook us about half way down, but we kept less that a boat length between us the whole way and we did not let them pull away. We tried to overtake on about 4 occasions but were constantly being blocked (illegally) by the Russian raft. In the end we came a very close 2nd and the big lesson learned from that experience was always bring a go-pro to back up any protest! But it didn't matter in the end, we had still claimed another Silver Medal! But, even more fantastic than that was that for the first time ever in the 10 years of this team's history, we had won GOLD OVERALL!! WE ARE THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS!
We took great pleasure in singing our national anthem at the top of our voices on the podium and all that was left then, was to win the party!
All that is left to say is a HUGE THANK YOU to all our sponsors, and 9bar, who keep us fuelled for the race and helped us purchase some of our paddles, Palm Equipment, who kit us out and keep us looking and feeling like the best team on the river, Nylacast who have helped to get us to our competitions and Teva who sort us out with ROCKIN' shoes. A massive thanks also to our wonderful and amazing Coach Deb Cook who gives us the best ‘pep talks’ EVER and is our biggest supporter. We also are so thankful for all our team mates, old and new who have contributed to our success at this event. And last but not least thanks to our family and friends who come out and support us, and to our husbands, boyfriends and best friends who have cooked for us after training, washed our kit for us, rubbed our sore shoulders and put up with conversations that are ALWAYS about rafting. I'm afraid it doesn't stop here.
Next stop Indonesia and the World Champs and WORLD DOMINATION!!!