Norwich canoe club booming a year before Olympics
Canoeing may not be Britain's biggest medal yielder of the Olympic Games to date, but its increasing popularity signals a promising future for one of the UK's most popular watersports.
More than 1.25 million people across the country take part in canoeing each year, making it the fastest growing watersport in Britain.
And while the histories of the canoe and kayak go back hundreds of years, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that the first official canoe and kayak races were held. The sport now takes two forms, the oldest of which is the power-packed, fiercely competitive canoe sprint discipline – head-to-head races conducted on still water.
Britain's greatest success in the canoe sprint, which was first introduced to the Games in 1936, came in Beijing in 2008 when Tim Brabants became the first gold medallist in canoeing, winning the K1M 100m event. Brabants followed up with a bronze medal in the K1M 500m event just 24 hours later, becoming GB Canoeing's most successful Olympian.
Next year's Olympics should bring even more excitement as the 500m men's event has been dropped in favour for the more explosive 200m.
It is also hoped that next year's Games will help showcase the sport which is already benefiting from increasing popularity.
Tim Scott, community sport coach for Norwich Canoe Club, based in Whitlingham Lane, said: 'Canoeing is growing tremendously and I think after next year's Olympics, its profile will go through the roof.
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'We've got all ages at the club – our youngest member is seven and oldest is 74. We've also got all range of abilities from those who want to compete nationally and internationally to those who enjoy it for leisure.'
In the Olympics, there will be 12 gold medals up for grabs with paddlers competing over distances of 200m, 500m or 1,000m, either solo, in pairs or in teams of four.
The athletes use a single-bladed paddle from a kneeling position in canoes, used in the C1 and C2 events, which are steered by the athlete making corrective strokes with their paddle. In kayaks, which are steered using a small rudder, the competitors sit in the boat and use a paddle with two blades.
Outside the Olympic disciplines, there are also marathon distances which can range from 15 or 20 kilometres at international level to 35km or 40km long.
Mr Scott added: 'It's a very inclusive sport in the sense that when we have club sessions, paddlers paddle with others of their own ability. We also get a lot of families. You have the children who start and then the parents, after dropping them off and picking them up, decide to have a go. We have four or five families who all paddle. It's a big family club.'
Norwich Canoe Club, which has 130 members and is growing all the time, has had a number of recent successes.
The club recently became the National Marathon Team Champions 2011. A number of its paddlers have also been selected to race for Team GB including former Junior European Marathon Champion Tim Pendle who is hoping to make the squad for London 2012. Youngsters Joe Rix and Lucy Lee-Smith were also selected for the recent International Loire Marathon.
A turning point in the club's history came earlier this year when the 'pipe dream' of a new boat house was turned into a reality. The club teamed up with Norwich Rowing Club, University of East Anglia Boat Club, Norwich School Boat Club and Norwich High School Rowing Club to develop Whitlingham Boathouses, new boathouses for rowing and canoeing in Norwich.
The clubs involved have raised more than �750,000 and have finished phase one – the completion of the structure and fitting out of the ground floor of the new boathouses. The principal funders have included �200,000 from British Rowing, their largest single grant in 2010, as well as local charities and the clubs themselves.
? For more information about canoeing, go to www.canoe-england.co.uk or www.gbcanoeing.org.uk.
? Contact information and details for Norwich Canoe Club are in the panel on the side. The club hosts beginner courses. The next one, suitable for all ages, will be run during the half term holidays, from October 24 to 28.
? For more information, email courses.norwich email@example.com