Blog - Down the "Big Channel" at Lee Valley

(ATR) With slalom events opening today, ATR’s Matthew Grayson revisits his recent trip down the Olympic rapids at Lee Valley White Water Center.

(ATR) I didn’t so much test the waters at Lee Valley the other night. Drink might be more accurate.

At somewhat less than Olympics strength, the rapids chewed me up and spit me out at a flow rate of 13 cubic meters per second.

Seven other journalists and I went from strangers to comrades in the span of three wild, wonderful and really really wet minutes.

The world’s best slalom canoeists and kayakers will do so in half that time when Olympic events begin today, all while dropping more than 5 meters from top to bottom and snaking through the 25 gates we all but ignored – at least six of them upstream.

Touch a gate? That’s a two-second penalty. Miss a gate? That’s 50 seconds, so might as well straight-line.

LOCOG canoe manager John MacLeod says he aims to get London 2012’s fastest athletes through in 90 seconds flat.

He’s yet to even try the course, instead sticking to the adjacent training loop.

"I’ll wait a bit before I go on the big channel," says MacLeod, a kayaking Olympian from Munich 1972.

Like others in the small group of reporters, OBS personnel and even troops to hit the rapids last Tuesday night, I assumed we too would be heading for calmer waters.

After all, the Games were just days away, I reasoned, and the "big channel" is for Olympians, not for you and me.

"Nope," venue media manager Andrew McMenamin reminds us with glee.

Lee Valley, you see, is London 2012’s only new venue to open for public use ahead of the Games.

The site, near Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire, has been hosting white-water canoeists and rafting enthusiasts for well over a year now, already beginning to make back its building costs.

In legacy mode, the temporary seating is removed, and Lee Valley returns to a sporting and leisure facility as well as a major competition and training venue for elite events.

Once the pros pack up their gear Thursday and you get ready to give this a try, word to the wise: just because you’re on the Olympic channel doesn’t mean the rapids are at Olympics strength.

We went down twice without losing anyone overboard before venue staff flipped the switch.

Only then does our guide reveal the safety procedures for when a raft gets tumped.

If you end up under the boat, he says, don’t worry – because you’ll automatically surface in one of the gaps between the seats.

"Might be kind of tight," he adds, about the time I rethink the night.

But as we plow our way down the course in tact – two other rafts weren’t so lucky – I feel ever so slightly like an Olympian, and I know I’m not alone.

I have a sneaking suspicion some of my colleagues think white-water rafting is an Olympic event, but I decide now’s not the time. Perhaps ignorance is bliss.

Written by Matthew Grayson

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