Interview with Ian Wiled, by Eadaoin Ni Challarain
European Champion, Pre-Olympic Champion. Fast, technical, stylish and IRISH!! ...... Meet Ian Wiley who I spoke to recently in Nottingham to discuss his career, boating, gear, why it is he thinks rodeo paddlers look strange and more.
Ian Wiley’s paddling career began when, in 1979, at the age of eleven he found a Lawrence SKB 400 in his Christmas stocking! Santa chose wisely - soon young Ian, a non- swimmwer, had become an active member of the vibrant Liffey-Valley Canoe Club. The Club operated literally out of Ian’s back garden. “Every kid in the area canoed at that time”. With the help of parents, idols like Shane Kelly (then ranked top five in the world wide slalom), Eunane Malone and Paul Maroney, youngsters in the area were well catered for as paddlers and there was a very strong club scene.
Then five months later Ian purchased a second hand slalom kayak. He began to compete locally at the then “massive” slalom events. There would often be up to 200 competitiors at an event. “Great fun” with all the excitement such a crowd could generate.
“At that time plastic boats didn’t exist and so ‘recreational’ boaters would often own a slalom kayak as their G.P. boat. In effect anyone with a boat got involved”
Slalom soon became Ian’s main focus. Shane Kelly was a member of Liffey Valley C.C. and was a very positive influence. Then in 1981 Ireland compiled its first junior slalom squad. Along with youngsters like Michael Corcaran, Andrew Redmond, Ger McMahon, Shane Quinlavan, Rory and Cuala McCann, Ian trained as part of this squad. ‘82 saw them enter their first International event at Llangollen, Wales. Two years later and thanks to the fundraising efforts of the local community along with some sponsorship by Renault, the young team set off for Europe to train and compete at the first Junior European Championships. The following year Ian won the U-16 category of this event and in 1986, under the guidance of coach Des Cileen, Ian won a Silver medal at the World Junior Slalom Championsips.
His career was well under way.
The following ten years saw many ups and downs. ‘87 was his year of introduction to the senior events. He was ranked thirteenth by the end of that season. Between then and 1990 he crept up along the ranking ladder. That year he won the pre-world champs and his sponsorship by Cara began. All this time Ian was still based at home on the Liffey. He spent periods in New Zealand, the States, Slovenia and Nottingham where he familiarised himself with the bigger waters and trained with the best. But, mostly he worked from home.
Ian came to public fame again in 1991 by winning the pre-Olympics. This had him tipped as a hot favourite for the big event that following year. However his race in Seu l turned into a living nightmare with a very disappointing two runs. He finished in 8th position and was devastated. “I didn’t look at a boat for three months after that, I couldn’t”. Even then his recovery was a slow one.
But, by the end of 1994 ‘Olympic Fever’ struck again. Time to knuckle down and give it another shot! (March 1994 saw Ian compete at the ‘Slalom sa Spideal’......could this have been a turning point?)
In an effort to de stagnate Ian moved to Nottingham in January ‘95 where he could train at the purpose built slalom site at Holme Pierrepoint. Around this time also Marjan
Strukelj, a close rival in Barcelona, became the Irish team coach. He was familiar with Ian’s style, temperament and form and was the perfect man to aid Ian with his Olympic preparations.
1995 and 1996 have been incredible years for Ian Wiley. ‘95 was his best season in three years, seeing him consistently in the top ten. In the World Cup he finished third, winning in Seu by a massive margin of three seconds. The form was excellent and by the summer of ‘96 it was full steam ahead for the approaching Olympic race on the Ocoee River, Tenessee.
And so on July 28th of this year Ian was back with the hope of winning a second time around.
“The setting was spectacular and the roaring crowd of 16,000 made the experience incredible”
Ian had two good runs but mistakes were made and he finished in 5th position. The story however doesn’t end here ......
This time around there was a quick recovery. One weeks rest (and a little partying!) then back to his training schedule, this time for the World Cup and European Championships in August. He was still well on form. At the World Cup in Prague he had a ‘storming’ run but had one costly touch which knocked him out of the finals. All finally came well, however, when he had “close to the ultimate run” and with a four second margin became European Mens Slalom K1 Champion - 1996.!!
Ian Comghairdeachas le do bhua. Slalom is obviously where your heart lies, but have you tried any of the other canoe disciplines?
Yes, when I started with the Liffey Valley C.C. the club was actively involved in all disciplines.
So, for the first couple of years I used to do quite a mixture of events: marathon, slalom, down river.
But slalom was, as you say, where my heart lay.
Since the introduction of the plastic boat have you been tempted with big river runs, stunts, rodeo paddling?
Yeah, generally whenever I have the opportunity I’ll run rivers and depending on how big the run is-that will determine if I use a plastic or race boat. But, it has to be pretty big before I go on plastic. Because of the training and traveling I’ve paddled rivers all over the world. In the States the Upper Yough and in Colorado, Chile (Bio Bio), Slovenia (Soca), Austria (Utz) and at home in Wicklow. I love paddling in big water!
O.K. I believe you, however, often slalomists are viewed as being quite removed from paddling in general: paddling on the one stretch of water, much time spent analysing from the bank, little playing, much focussing, lost of discipline. How do you react to that view?
You’re right in some of those things - being quite focussed and disciplined. We are athletes trying to achieve certain goals so, its like any competitive sport ... You have to be very dedicated.
Being ‘removed’ from paddling, now that’s completely ridiculous because every single day, twice a day you’re doing just that - paddling. I also disagree with what you’re saying about little playing. Slalom is a very skilled discipline that involves playing. At certain periods during the year I go playing on the river cause its simply fun. And after all a slalomist by the name of Eric Jackson has won the World Rodeo Championships. So there!!
What about the fear that slalom is not spectacular enough when compared to the “flashier” rodeo moves of today and hence it is loosing its spectatorship appeal and with it sponsorship?
A survey was conducted in Germany after the Olympics this year. It asked people what sport they would like to see more of on T.V. Slalom came out as number one. Also the slalom event at the Olympics was the third quickest event to sell out (Next to the opening and closing ceremonies). It was a huge success at the Games. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd went wild. Much of that has to do with it being an Olympic effect but to try to reproduce that atmosphere falls down to the International Canoe Federation (I.C.F) and the organisers of big events. If events are promoteds better to cater for larger crowds sponsorship is easier to attract. It can be done with the right people doing the job.
Next year there’s a series starting in June which will be sponsored by Corona. (So, there should be good parties after the races at least). These slalom races will have prize money of approximately £2,500 for each race plus a bonus on offer to the overall winner. The series of five races is being run independantly of of the I.C.F and will be televised. So, this is a step in the right direction.
Why then is slalom being dropped for the next Olympics?
That I don’t understand. The slalom event in Barcelona and Atlanta went down very well. The T.V. companies loved it and the reaction from the general public was excellent. The main problem, from what I have heard, is that the Sydney organisers can’t justify the expense of building the course. This really sickens me because they had canoe slalom in their bid. Sooner or later the real culprits responbsible for not ensuring that canoe slalom is included will come out and I expect the I.F.C is largely repsonsible. Having said all that there is still some work going on in the background to try and get it in. We’ll keep hoping.
Now turning closer to home, how do you see slalom progressing in Ireland?
Firstly, the I.C.U. has to try to develop a better scene. Presently there is very few actual club bases through-out the country. In Ireland there’s only really Salmon Leap C.C. and Wild - Water that have decent facilities. These facilities should be available throughout the country. Especially for youngsters coming into the sport, they need to have a base to operate from. As soon as there’s a club house for them to store their boats in and to get changed etc, then slalom sites can be erected near the club house. Once that is done which will demand huge amounts of work, you have a base and can build from that. The slalom squad in Ireland needs to have a full time coach who could spot potential juniors and point them in the right direction. A coach exists in all other countries but sadly funding for Irish sport doesn’t allow it.
Ian continues that a new Sports Strategy Group has been formed. Chaired by John Tracey it has
three specific sub groups to deal with:
¨ People in Irish sport
¨ Structures within sport
This group will soon be taking over from Cuspoir in the allocation of sports funding. Its new progressive approach to sport in Ireland should have a positive effect on all areas of sport, including canoeing.
Another area that has seen much pregression in recent years is that of paddling gear. Ian has been involved in equipment design, mainly with companies, Double Dutch and Peak. Ian feels that gear is more user friendly and comfort orientated these days. Things like crank shafts, seen in use in all canoe disciplines, are simply a comfort measure. They allow the users wrist to relax in a more natural position so,
“Why” Ian asks “put strain on your body when there is no need?” He is also impressed with the wide range of fabrics now being used in cags and other paddling wear. “Gortex, Pertex, fleece, mixtures of any sort and kind”. Manufacturers are willing to try them all in an attempt to meet our paddling needs!
Finally, I ask the Champ. from Chapelizod if the stars have heroes too and if so who his paddling
“Like I said earlier Shane Kelly was my original heroes. He was fantastic and a huge driving force in my early days. As time went on people like Richard Fox and John Lugbill were who I aspired to. They are two of my all time greats.....”. I butt in. There’s no mention of Shaun Baker here whom I thought was every paddlers hero! It appears not. This merits further investigation and so I ask, “What is your problem with plastic boaters?” (I’m too much of a Baker fan and have been witness to too many plasitc V slalom disputes to let the matter lie.)
“There is no problem. I even admire the wicked skill some of them possess”
“No, no problem at all with them...............Its just hard sometimes to take them seriously. Its those helmets............those weird helmets they wear!”
Satisfied that it is but an aesthetical problem , I close the issue. The look on Wiley’s face validated the decision!
I would like to thank Ian Wiley for his time and patience