Tacen White Water Slalom Course
River Sava which is running to the North of Ljubljana, the Capital City of Slovenia is the largest river in Slovenia. It is full of rapids and spots where the nature had provided some great opportunities for harnessing of the water energy. One of such spots on the river is at the village of Tacen, now a suburb of the Capital City of Slovenia Ljubljana. Long back into the previous millennium the locals had used this energy to power the mill on the left bank of the river. This was a small hamlet still some long miles from the growing metropolis. Towards the middle of the last century in the period after WWI, the electric energy had made its way into the households of Europe. With this need for power, a power generating station was built on the opposite bank from the mill. This required some damming of the natural flow of the river of course, and the result is still visible and in use at the present day. There is a set of rapids concentrated just under the dam.
This dam had become a challenge for the (then) kayakers of the area. There were two separate spots where one could negotiate the rapids with a great amount of adrenalin being produced: first one was on the left bank adjacent to the old mill, whilst the second which was for kayakers of more interest, was of course the flow of water across the dam on the right bank. Here the first known and documented slalom competition in Tacen was held in summer of 1939. The start of course was below the dam. In those days the paddling down that stretch of water was considered extremely hazardous. How demanding - and punishing - the paddling there was, is best illustrated by the fact that in year 1939 total of 16 boats started and only 9 finished. One may ask what happened to the other 7 boats. The boats were reduced to kindling as in those days the boats’ frames were made pine and had canvas stretched over this frame. The winner of this first contest was a chap by the name of Malahovski.
Until the year 1952 the start was located under the dam. In 1952 it was the first time that the competitors started above the dam. The water rushing over the dam wall had on it’s descend dug out a huge hole which represented a grave danger for any paddler. Here the boats disappeared into the watery maelstrom, only to appear a little further downstream just as pieces of fabric and timber. The embankment was of shale jutting out into the stream thus representing a great hazard to the paddler. To ensure some degree of safety some local geniuses came up with an idea of placing timber flooring over the bottom of the “hole”. A local carpenter Albin Cizman had built a wooden floor for each race meeting as the destructive powers of the water managed to take the floor apart in no time. The races were organized by a group of volunteers. These helpers did a hard work of erecting the gates which in those days were made of wooden tripods with ropes and gates affixed to them. There were no luxuries in those days of adjustable stainless steel cabling.
All volunteers received as their payment a tram ticket from the city to the last stop, and then they had to walk another 2 miles to the course. The additional reward for all helpers at that time was a lunch in a shape of a Krainsky sausage. After this first event the race meetings became more frequent and Slovene competitors started to climb their way towards the top of the world ladder in this exiting sport.
With the success of this first meeting and of course the subsequent ones, the Slovene canoeing movement had built quite a reputation. In fact it was on the basis of these successes that ICF had entrusted the Slovene Boating Association (there was no Canoe Federation of Slovenia as yet) the preparation and running of the World Canoeing Slalom Championships in 1955. This in fact was only the 2nd ever World Kayak Slalom Championships held in Yugoslavia and Slovenia. This great event held from 29th to 31st July, 1955 opened with a parade of the participants through the City streets. The championship was organized by the Boating Association of Slovenia however the actual running of the event was being carried out by the Kayak Canoe Club of Ljubljana. This Club actually staged and conducted the event. Mr. Cyril Pogacnik, a member of Kayak/Canoe Club of Ljubljana was also a member of ICF, and the fact that the event was staged in Slovenia at all is the result of his great efforts and organizing skills.
Some 15,000 spectators came to watch the white water daredevils, which for that time was an outstanding number. To enable the best viewing possible, large viewing galleries were built for the public. There were 14 countries participating, and that number remained a record as it was only in 1970’s that other world championships reached and surpassed this number. The local competitors did not fail the local supporters. Joze Ilija finished 3rd, 5th was Milan Zadel and this success was further enhanced by the 17th place of Bogdan Svet. Not to be out done, Slovenia also had a C-2 crew Nathan Bernot and Milos Pozar starting. Slovene competitors (and public as well) had at that time sighted the new plastic boats which the French Team was competing in. Tacen 1955 carried the fame of its white waters around the world. And the reputation it made for itself was one of great beauty as well as of great difficulty. With it of course went the knowledge and thrust in Slovene Canoeing movement as good and friendly organizers of the best kayaking competitions.
With the success of Tacen World Championships the year 1955 was a great marker in its life. Following the successes of that year, and its local competitors, the sport in Slovenia grew in its popularity drawing in the spectator crowds. The races at the Tacen Canoe Centre (as it became known) were attended now regularly by the top international competitors. As it was already mentioned, the first plastic or polyester made boats appeared. Slovene competitors had witnessed their first Eskimo rolls. There was a lot of excitement in all this new things, but the new boat materials were the most intriguing to the local kayakers. So in the following year they placed an order for the plastic material from a Swiss manufacturer. The Tacen boys together with the sport enthusiast from the Kayak Club in Solkan on River Soca got together and produced the very first plastic canoe. It was in beautiful red color, however it was much heavier on the left side than the right one…The second boat was blue in color and infinitely of a better quality. The boys involved with this “manufacturing” (all was hand made of course) had got rather experienced at this by now, so in 1964 Mr. Nathan Bernot (one of the driving forces of Slovene canoeing) left for US to teach the Yanks how to make the plastic canoes. As North America is the home of the original canoe it is a worth to note that in US, Nathan Bernot is often mentioned as the father of the modern canoeing in the United States of America.
For the 1955 Championships a bridge and a gangway were added to connect the dam with the little island on the left bank. There was a wooden tower structure built for the press and camera crews.
The wooden viewing galleries were built for the public, and some parts were built in such a way so that they reached across the canal and that the spectators were in fact seating over the water. It was a pity that this entire infrastructure was removed after the events completion.
Towards the end of the 1950’s he first serious attempt has been made to change the bottom of the river. The big hole at the bottom of the spillway was being sealed with concrete. There were some earth works done with the aim of shoring up the banks and some other smaller details with the overall result rendering the course much safer for the competitors. During the spring of 1961 as the result of the enormous flooding, the course was almost washed away. Almost a total rebuild was needed to make the course suitable for the competition. The year 1962 has seen a large amount of work invested into the rebuilding of the course. Wire netting boxes were placed at the strategic points. These boxes were filled with rocks and were aiming to regulate the back flow of the current. This in effect resulted in course to become much more dynamic. The need for boat storage, as well as the VIP stand, the press and TV people and cameras became ever more pressing, and it in fact dictated the construction of an observation tower housing all these functionalities in one...The metal construction was designed by a group of enthusiasts such as Nathan Bernot, Max Topoljevic, Boris Predalic and Janez Svetlic. The large number of volunteers aided the project. As a point of note is the fact that US Team training at Tacen at the time did help with the painting of the structure. The water flow on the course was very fast but at the same time the rather shallow water was some cause for concern in respect of the injuries to the competitors during the possible rollovers. Jokingly it was hinted that the section of the course was the express way from Tacen to Ljubljana’s Clinical Centre. During the following decade the course was being regularly maintained to a top standard.
During the period of almost two decades whilst the course was only maintained, but no real improvement were carried out, resulted in the fact that the course became rather “worn out” and dated. So in 1982 the decision was made to do something positive about it. The then president of the Canoe Club of Ljubljana Mr. Igor Slapnik was the driving force behind this reconstruction and improvement move. One of the most important actions carried out at that time was the deepening of the course itself. At the bottom of the spillway just beyond the hole which was now concreted, there was a piece of huge rock named the “cube”. This was the nemesis of many a paddler who when the control of the boat was lost, went head first into this obstacle. This extremely dangerous point was being removed rendering the course much safer due the greatly increased depth of the water under the boat. The number of injuries to the paddlers was therefore greatly reduced. The river bed and configuration was also altered in the area below the control tower.
The course we see today is the result of the work which was carried out in anticipation of the 1990 World Canoeing Championships. The course management team under the leadership of Mr. Rade Kovachevich did a great job of totally reconstructing the course - starting at the dam and following the best possible line to the finish. The dam was sealed for a time so that the riverbed could be concreted. The control tower was moved slightly away from the river’s edge towards the power station canal. This canal is also used for a warm up of the paddlers.
As the results of the constant destruction of the right banks and the viewing galleries and the gate pillars the City Council of Ljubljana provided the financial resources to do the number of things to the course: installed was a system of fixed pillars located above and behind the viewing galleries which simplified the positioning of the gates - now the course setters could with a great precision position the gates where they thought could provide for the best and most attractive runs. There were other improvements of note as well - the course was deepened in some areas as well as the embankments were raised thus eliminating frequent destruction of the area caused by the seasonal flooding. The surroundings were landscaped as well as the power station canal was modified to enable to be used as a warm up area and as the genera training area. All of this made Tacen Canoeing Centre a modern and up to date kayak centre which at least once a year hosts a major international competition. And in June 2008 Tacen Canoe Centre in Ljubljana, the Capital of Slovenia will host the ICF Slalom World Cup.