Writer: Rob van Bommel | Sportscene

A week ago I came across a video with Knut Holmann (Norway) racing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The person who posted the video on YouTube classified Holmann as “technically the best paddler ever”. Next sentence: “you can’t go wrong with either Knut or Adam van Koeverden…” 

This statement intrigued me because there are many other good athletes such as Ken Wallace, Lisa Carrington, Tim Brabants and so on. So two questions came up:

  1. Why are people like Knut and Adam perceived as the best technicians? What is it they do and others don’t (to a lesser extend)?
  2. Why do people with the best technique not always win? Assuming they train equally hard, are equally strong and so on.

If you are an experienced sprint athlete or coach you might already know the answers to these questions. But if you are more like a canoe sprint fan like myself and not an expert, bearing in mind that sprint sometimes can come across as an exact science (especially the stroke itself), it’s the kind of curiosity that can arise. So I decided to ask Clint Robinson who won three medals at the Olympic Games (period 1992 – 2004), four medals at World Championships (period 1991 – 1995) and who doesn’t shy away from telling you what he thinks.

Knut Holmann
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So why Knut and Adam?

Clint – “The rhythmic nature of their stroke combined with the success of both athletes have had for a number of years would certainly be the main contributing factors to a lot of the general opinions that float around.

Both Knut and Adam have been two of the World’s great technicians and usually the people that can back up for a 10 year period at least with international success is who I regard to have the foundations of quality technique – the one off wonders get a combination of important factors together to create the one significant result but technical flaws make it impossible for them to sustain the quality of performance.

I heard a saying many years ago that I have always believed in regarding general opinion and it goes like this “Opinions are like bums – everybody has one, but often a lot of crap flows out” and in most situations it really has no bearing on the result whatsoever – it’s a ripper don’t you think?”

Assuming certain prerequisites are the same, why do people with the best technique not always win?

Clint – “The majority of paddlers in the final of International canoeing races have a technique that is capable of victory, but fitness and power are two key factors in success combined with strategy. Just because you look good and people think you look good certainly doesn’t guarantee anyones victory at the top end. Otherwise we could all bet on the best technician through general opinion and be millionaires if the best looking paddler won each time.

It is interesting to note that since 2000 we have had a lot more visual technology available to the masses around the World, but I regard some of the greatest technicians I have seen paddle come from the previous 2 eras leading up to this time.”

Conclusion

What I have learned from Clint Robinson’s answers is that (1) good or ‘perfect’ technicians are perceived as such also because of their long term results and that  (2) if you are – hypothetically speaking – the best technician in the world but you never become an Olympic or World Champion (multiple times), by public opinion you will never be perceived as ‘the best technician’ even though you might be…

Anyway, I definitely found this a useful exercise and would like to thank Clint for his time. This is his website by the way: www.clintrobinson.com.au

One last thing about technique from our perspective (media). Often you see these videos with athletes racing and if you are lucky from different angles and in slowmo. But seldom these videos explain verbally what the technique exactly involves in key words, voice, different angles and so on. Here is one which did about 50,000 views in a short time: www.archive.sportscene.tv/flatwater/canoe-sprint/training/body-stroke

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