The European Masters Games has been my main competitive focus since the World Masters Games in Auckland in 2017. Ivrea Canoa Club hosted a friendly yet professionally run slalom, welcoming over 70 competitors from across Europe, the US and Australia. I was delighted to come away with two gold medals, individually in the K1 55+ and in the K1 40+ teams alongside Andy Laird and Mark Wignall.

On the Podium! (thanks Marcis Laidins for the photo)

I had mixed feelings coming into the race. My early season Premier division races in the UK hadn’t gone so well, despite a very solid winter of training. Also, a combination of being busy with work, and the Lee Valley World Cup, meant I hadn’t been on the water very much in June and July. On the plus side, my friend Huw Swetnam agreed to come with me. I’ve worked with Huw for several years as his sport psychologist, and in return he helps me with technical coaching. I also was lucky to pick up a new boat a few weeks before the race, a Galasport Caipi with fins, which fitted me like a glove and feels great on the water.

I was keen to spend a couple of days in Bourg Saint Maurice on the way to Ivrea. I’d not paddled there since the 1987 World Champs and it’s one of my favourite venues, widely recognised as one of the best natural river slalom courses in the world. Imagine our disappointment when we arrived to find that the slalom course had been wiped out by a flash flood the night before. Major thunderstorms, floods and landslides had also disrupted the Tour de France that day, so there was a general sense of confusion and disappointment in the town. We made the most of things with a flat-water session at Bourg, and a trip to the slalom site at Moutiers 20 km downstream.

Training at Ivrea

We had 5 days in Ivrea before the race, and with Huw’s help we shaped up a training plan; Monday a short play session to tune into the water, then later in the day short ‘progs’, 2 broken runs each on 2 different full-length courses. Tuesday, repeats to focus on key sections of the course. Wednesday half runs to simulate race pace and test delivery under fatigue. Thursday short speedy progs, and finally on Friday a single non-stop official practice run. I have paddled at Ivrea before and wanted to be well rested for the race, so was happy to only paddle once a day.

I was a little nervous in the morning before my first run but felt confident in my plan. The only unknown was what would happen if I caught up to the paddler in front, as had happened during the non-stop practice. As it was, this wasn’t an issue, and my first run was clean and decent for the first two thirds before losing a bit of intensity toward the finish. The most notable mistake was rolling between the last gate and the finish line! I was annoyed at myself but regrouped for the second run that afternoon. I went out strongly, determined to deliver to the plan. Despite a couple of minor time losses (and having to navigate a swinging gate as I passed the paddler in front) the run was smooth and clean, and seven seconds faster than my first. It was the best race run I’ve paddled in a long time, certainly since I returned to slalom in 2010. I felt so relieved and happy, even before I knew the result. I’d achieved a new level of technical paddling in a race to deliver a 9/10 run when it counted.

Here’s a video of my best run.

Happy paddler and coach

I really enjoyed working with Huw, who as well as being an outstanding competitor is an exceptional coach. Here’s how he helped me to apply the four Fundamentals that I’ve written about in my book ‘In the Flow.’ These are the essential psychological foundations that underpin performance in any sport.

Mastery Motivation

Huw helped me to frame my objectives for the race in a very healthy way. Rather than putting pressure and expectations on myself, he pointed out that this was an opportunity to race at a new level. And because I hadn’t done this before, there was no expectation that I should do so, and also nothing to lose if I didn’t. As a result, I felt positive, especially before my second run, and wasn’t overly focused on the outcomes. At the same time, we were both clear that I wanted to race well, and I wasn’t here just for a holiday.

Decision Making

Having video and coach feedback during and after each training session meant that I quickly learned a lot about the course. Because I was paddling well technically, the feedback focused on how I was dealing with the water features, and we quickly identified a couple of venue specific themes that stayed relevant all week. When jumping the many stoppers at Ivrea, it’s critical to get a good angle and time the last stroke well. Also, it’s always important to keep vision up when exiting the upstream gates.


I felt confident in my race plan, based on what we’d learnt in training, so I was free to focus on delivery during the race. I did this through plenty of mental rehearsal, focusing not on specific strokes but on having a clear intent about the boat position and trajectory, as well as having visual cues at key points. I also worked on using my peripheral vision, especially off the start line.


Huw is great company and we shared the journey and challenge together. It’s been a long time (30 plus years) since I’ve had a coach help me prepare so thoroughly and it makes a remarkable difference. The Masters Games has a wonderful atmosphere and there was plenty of banter and camaraderie with other British and Australian paddlers.

What’s next?

There are three more Premier races this year, including the British Open, and I’m keen to continue my good form through these events, and secure enough points to remain in Premier division. At some point in the next few months I need an ear operation to fix a bad case of ‘surfer’s ear.’ I’m fed up with being deaf on one side! The next World Masters Games is in Japan in 2021, but in the meantime, I’d like to race more regularly in Europe. There are some great Masters paddlers from Germany, Russia and France and I’d love to race them more often!

Click here for full EMG slalom results.

#slalom #intheflow #coaching #performance