Mark Coleman has brought a little bit of Rio to Lee Valley White Water Centre. Having spent time in Rio helping out with the fine tuning and commissioning of the rapids on the prestigious Rio 2016 Olympic Canoe Slalom Course in the Deodoro X-Park in Rio, he has reproduced sections of the Rio rapids at Lee Valley for all to enjoy.
As a specialist in ‘tuning rapids on artificial white water courses’, Mark was asked to help with the commissioning and adjustment of the rapids at the Deodoro X-Park white water course – a final step in the venue delivery process focused on ensuring safety and excitement for the athletes, as well as its ability to perform consistently for Olympic competition. Additionally, after having helped to set up the course he had the honour of being the first to try them out in a raft on a test run last year.
He worked in Rio at the invitation of course modellers and designers Whitewater Parks International (WPI), the company that also designed the Lee Valley White Water Centre. They called him in on a special assignment for 10 days last November to assist in the initial Rio course configuration tuning, adding his years of experience and proven ability in redesigning the rapids at the Lee Valley White Water Centre after the London 2012 Olympics to the WPI Team.
Mark’s unique experience and expertise at Lee Valley White Water Centre has made him an acknowledged expert in the use of RapidBlocs, the moveable and reconfigurable white water obstacle system used at both London and Rio to make the rapids.
But Mark has not always been working with fast flowing water and RapidBlocs. Little did he know when he ran away to sea at the age of 21 that nearly four decades later he would have a hand in setting up the Olympic white water slalom course in Rio for this year’s games.
He has gone from being a building site labourer, to medical research chemist, to runaway sailor, to development chemist, to raft guide and now, at nearly 60 having retired from his first career in the Pharma industry he has become the Course Designer at Lee Valley White Water Centre. Mark said:
I was thrilled to be asked by Whitewater Parks International’s Managing Director Bob Campbell to come out to Rio to help them with the commissioning and tuning of the rapids at the Deodoro X-Park white water course.
It was a great honour to be asked to go to Brazil and to contribute to the course commissioning. When I got there, we turned the water on at competition level for the first time and I could see that WPI had done an excellent job of designing the concrete channels and modelling the initial placement of the RapidBlocs that make the rapids. As an anticipated part of the process, there were some areas that needed additional fine tuning to improve hydraulics. But overall the first configuration was good – really good! The competitors at the test event absolutely loved it.
During the 10 days he was there Mark helped the team to refine all the areas that needed attention. The course was shortly after declared suitable for the Canoe Slalom test event in November 2015 by the International Canoe Federation. Mark added:
The test event was hailed a great success and Great Britain’s David Florence won gold in the Men’s C1 event.
Since his return and the test event he says he has ‘brought a little bit of Rio to Lee Valley.’ At the request of British Canoeing he has recreated sections of the Rio rapids at Lee Valley to help the GB athletes prepare for the games and for the public to enjoy rafting or kayaking.
With 13,000 litres of water a second powering down the Olympic Course at Lee Valley, enough to fill 75 bath tubs every second, or an Olympic sized swimming pool in a little over three minutes, Mark has been working with some strong currents, on what he describes as ‘the largest continuous flow experiment that I have had the pleasure of working on.’
It is a far cry from the early beginnings when he started out life as a Medical Research Chemist with a major pharmaceutical company. Then after three years in the Merchant Navy as a young man he returned as a development chemist, developing life changing medicines. During his time in the Pharma industry he became a pioneer and expert in the use of continuous flow chemistry and continuous processing which, albeit on a much smaller scale, has some parallels with fast flowing water moving down a concrete channel over and around obstacles.
But Mark’s heart was always on the water, having been kayaking for over 30 years as his key hobby. Now he has come full circle ‘living the dream’, with his job as a hobby.
The pivotal time came in 2009 when Mark, from Ware in Hertfordshire, took the opportunity of early retirement to be with his wife Julie who was recovering from cancer. Mark explained:
At the time we didn’t know how things would pan out, but thankfully she has made a full recovery and she spent 5 years at the Lee Valley White Water Centre helping to set up and run the kit room. And with a white water centre having just been built down the road from us, It’s the only way she was going see me.
When I realised that an artificial white water course was being built just down the road from me, my love of the outdoors and paddlesports kicked in and I just knew that I wanted to work there is some capacity. I was knocking on the door before it opened and I decided to train as a Raft Guide in November 2010.
Mark has been at Lee Valley White Water Centre ever since. Mark concluded:
It is fantastic to be earning and living my hobby. Plus it’s brilliant that I’ve been able to use my 35 years’ experience in science and engineering in my role as course designer and raft guide. And going to Rio has been the icing on the cake!