Officially opening in April 2011, Lee Valley White Water Centre was purpose-built to host canoe slalom at the London 2012 Olympic Games, but was also always built with legacy at the heart of it.
The centre was the first and only new venue to open to the public pre-Games, giving fans and the local community an insight into the white water course before the World’s best took to the venue.
During the London 2012 Olympic Games, Lee Valley hosted five days of exhilarating canoe slalom action, with over 50,000 fans descending on the Waltham Cross venue to witness historic moments of medal success for TeamGB.
Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott put down the run of their lives to claim Britain’s first ever canoe slalom gold medal, winning the men’s C2 event in front of a jubilant crowd.
This was backed up by David Florence and Rich Hounslow, who followed their British teammates with a fantastic silver medal to cap off a momentous day in Hertfordshire and continued Britain’s medal success in the discipline.
Still reeling from that incredible August day in 2012, Lee Valley was then the first venue to reopen to the public just six weeks after the final day of canoe slalom action, and started to put the legacy of the Games into action.
Offering white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding on top of a whole host of other activities, Lee Valley also boasts a ‘legacy loop’ which provides opportunities to everyone from total beginners to world class athletes, some of which have made it onto the British Canoeing World Class Programme and gone on to international success already.
Fast forward 10 years and on the anniversary of that successful medal winning week, Lee Valley White Water Centre continues to thrive and shows that the legacy of the venue is alive and kicking, both on a recreational basis but also through performance in canoe slalom, freestyle and further disciplines.
Still renowned as one of the best, and most iconic, white water courses in the world you’d only have to head over on a sunny afternoon for a walk to see the Olympic course full of Britain’s best canoe slalom paddlers, with British Canoeing’s slalom programme permanently based at the centre.
Rafting sessions, a legacy course used by beginners and a flat water lake full of kayakers, paddleboarders and an inflatable assault course are just a few of the wide offerings the centre has.
The legacy of the Games is apparent throughout the canoe slalom team. At the recent Junior and Under 23 World Championships in Ivrea, Italy, six of the squad were linked with Lee Valley Paddlesports Club, which was set up as part of the London legacy.
Ranging from Under 23 World Champions to 15-year-olds making their international debut, the athletes all got into paddling at Lee Valley through different avenues.
Beth Forrow started canoeing through a talent identification programme, where coaches went into local schools, giving prospective athletes the opportunity to take part in fitness and agility tests, before getting a chance to try the water for the first time at Lee Valley, before being selected for the programme where she began to train regularly.
Having never heard of canoe slalom, it was having Lee Valley built on her doorstep that encouraged Beth into the sport.
“I don’t think I would’ve got into canoe slalom if it wasn’t for Lee Valley White Water Centre. The fact that it was so close to where I live meant I was really lucky to have that opportunity through my school.
“I may have been doing other sports or doing something else right now, but I think it’s been incredibly important to have such good access to the centre and water since the beginning of my paddling journey.
“The venue is amazing. To have access to such an elite centre, where I could build from the flat water, to the legacy loop and all the way up to the Olympic course is a great transition.
Watching clips back of London 2012 where we obviously won the two medals. The atmosphere and crowd at a home venue. Hopefully I will get to be part of that one day.– Beth Forrow
At 16, an incredible selection series saw Beth make her way onto the senior team for the first time, which culminated in making the World Championship final, where she finished eighth.
Since then, the 21-year-old has gone on to win numerous international medals, including the 2021 Under 23 women’s C1 World title.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without Lee Valley. Winning the U23 World Championships was massive for me and Lee Valley definitely played a big part in that. It’s one of the best courses in the world, and to have the Lee Valley Paddlesports Club, the Talent ID, it's been amazing to see younger athletes come through the pathway that I did and build into the Olympic sessions.”
James Kettle first got into canoe slalom off the back of watching the London 2012 Olympics live. Having had a little bit of paddling experience, the Games inspired James to try other areas of paddling through canoe sprint and slalom, before settling on slalom as a discipline he wanted to pursue.
Living round the corner from the venue, James took his slalom paddle at Lee Valley and has since represented Britain numerous times across junior, Under 23 and senior events.
“My canoeing experience only really extended to playboating really, but my dad bought us tickets to go and watch canoe slalom at the London 2012 Olympics. We initially watched the C1 event earlier in the week and we wanted to go back so went and watched the C2 final day where we won the historic gold and silver. The memories of the crowd on that day were amazing.
That day had a real impact on me and my love for the sport. It was my first impression of slalom and it really introduced the sport in a really positive way. It showcased the entire sport. From there I joined a local canoe club, trying several disciplines including sprint and slalom and that got me into slalom.– James Kettle
“As soon as Lee Valley was built, it made it really easy for me to train more in the sport. I initially trained there two or three times a week, but from there I made it onto talent programmes and that increased.
“The course was a key factor in my progression within the sport. It was my first white water course. With the legacy loop and the Olympic loop it gave great progression through different skill levels so it catered for my slalom needs from early days to Prem.
“Being able to watch the high level events at Lee Valley showcase the sport really well and then to train there has set me up well for international competitions.”
Zoe Blythe-Shields has recently made her international debut at the Junior World Championships at the age of 15. After initially getting into paddling through her local leisure centre in canoe polo, Zoe’s first white water experience was on the Lee Valley legacy loop.
“Me and my sister first started paddling through canoe polo at our local leisure centre. From there my sister and a few other paddlers were encouraged to go down to Lee Valley White Water Centre where they discovered slalom.
“She was then encouraged to join the Talent ID programme. I went along to watch her and became really interested in the discipline and gave it a go from there.
“I like to think I would've always given canoe slalom a go, but Lee Valley has made me really enjoy the sport and has definitely helped me progress to where I am now.
Lee Valley has really helped me reach my first international competition, it's a fantastic course, the coaching is great so it definitely helped. I first started on the legacy loop and slowly worked my way up to the Olympic course.– Zoe Blythe-Shields
Aside from having a flourishing venue being regularly used by both the local community and white water fans from across the world, Lee Valley has also continued to stage world class events beyond London 2012.
First hosting the 2014 World Cup, the venue then went on to stage the 2015 World Championships, where Britain enjoyed some great success, winning five medals including a men’s C1 title for three time Olympic silver medallist David Florence.
The 2019 World Cup followed where again Britain shone on the international stage with gold medals for Mallory Franklin and Joe Clarke in the canoe slalom, as well as an extreme slalom title medal for Etienne Chappell as the new discipline prepares to make its Games debut in Paris 2024.
The international competitions haven't stopped there, as the World Championships return to Lee Valley in 2023 as part of the build-up and qualification process for the Paris 2024 Olympic programme.
It will see around 300 of the world’s top athletes head to the Lee Valley White Water Centre to battle it out across a week of high-energy competition.
Tickets will go on sale ahead of the event and you can find more information here.