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Trent College student Zyggy Chmiel upset the odds to win K-1 Men Junior silver at the ICF World Canoe Marathon Championships silver in Györ, Hungary last weekend.
The Nottingham Kayak Club paddler saw off the threat of reigning European champion and GB teammate, Magnus Gregory, to finish sandwiched between the two Hungarian home favourites, Máté Györgyjakab and Erik Petró, to claim his first ever World Championship medal on just his second Worlds outing.
Zyggy, who only turned 18 two days before the race, did not let the disruption of boat damage and a last minute kayak repair knock him off his stride as he completed the 22km paddle, which included five portages where paddlers jump out and run with their boats, in one hour and thirty-one minutes, almost two minutes ahead of third-placed Hungarian Petró.
For the Trent College Sixth Former from West Bridgford, the medal was the result of hard work that had started 12 months earlier on his Worlds debut, as his father Marysh explains.
“Zyggy came 10th at his first Worlds in the USA last year and described the intensity of racing as being at a ferocity he had never experienced before. He came home saying if he was to be a Junior medal contender in 2015 he would need to be competing at the same level as the top senior men in the UK.
“Over the past year he has taken every opportunity to race the top senior men and knew he was in form when he recently finished second in the senior men's 1,000m sprint event at a national regatta.
“Zyggy trains on the river every day in all weathers as well as doing several gym sessions a week. He is lucky to be part of a training group at Nottingham Kayak Club who both push and support him. It is difficult to describe the physical and mental effort along with the psychological intensity that comes with achieving at this level.”
In front of a large group of Nottingham Kayak Club supporters who had travelled to Hungary to back him, Zyggy had a challenging start to the race. Against ferocious competition he had to work hard to get onto the back of the leading group of eight where he found himself in rough water. Having gradually made his way through the group, and whittled down to five, he seemed to find his rhythm.
Just after halfway Györgyjakab made a break at a portage and Zyggy was the only one able to stay with him. The two stayed out front until the last portage when the Hungarian broke away. With a comfortable margin behind him Zyggy was able to paddle the last 500m with a smile to take a very emotional silver medal.
Marysh added: “It was great so many of those who have shared the journey with Zyggy were there to enjoy his success. This result was not expected, but he and we all knew there was a chance he could do it if he was tactically flawless and gave it his all. Being the underdog made the result all the more special.”
Zyggy started kayaking aged nine after being introduced to the sport through family friends. Within two years he was paddling seriously, and has represented GB since U14s, gaining international honours for both sprint and marathon kayaking.
Over the past two years he has also made the finals at the Olympic Hopes sprint regatta and in 2014 won a World Cup marathon event in Slovenia. Zyggy's Worlds result was the best of the 17-boat GB team, with one other boat taking a bronze medal.