March 22, 2005

So Complicated Even the British Can't Keep it Straight

Yesterday I found this story about a horrific on-water collision that will immediately remind Canadian sports fans of Silken Laumann.

Most international regatta courses that are shared between rowers and flatwater canoeists and kayakers have posted rules about traffic direction. The rowers circulate in one direction, and the canoes and kayaks circulate in the opposite direction. That way, at least the paddlers can see what's coming! Rowers take these circulation rules quite seriously, since they need protection from colliding with each other. Paddlers, on the other hand, tend to have a more casual attitude toward navigation, and ignore the rules when it suits them.

Walsh was a silver medallist in Athens in the canoe/kayak slalom men's kayak singles event. If he was out training on the flatwater course in his slalom boat then he was pretty much a sitting duck on the water. Slalom boats are made to be maneuverable, not fast. My guess would be that Walsh was also circulating in the "wrong" direction, either because he was unfamiliar with the convention or because he ignored it. He would have been making enough noise that he couldn't hear the relatively quiet and speedy rowing scull coming up behind him. She might have hit him going 15 km/h or more.

It's curious that the incident is twice described as a "hit-and-run." Does that mean that the female rower left the scene of the accident? It's pretty hard to run over a slalom kayak and not notice it. Or maybe the expression means something different in Britain?

While we're talking about the meanings of words, allow me to note that the British are apparently no better than anybody else at grasping the not-so-subtle distinction between rowing and kayaking. Notice the use of the words "kayak" and "canoe" as synonyms, and the description of the female in the single "skull" as "another rower." Folks, a kayak is not a canoe; a kayaker is not a rower, and doesn't row; and this kind of scull is spelled with a c, not a k.

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