17-year-old leads kayaking world championships, sponsored by Whitewater Columbus

Hunter Katich is already a kayaking champion. Come Sunday, he may be one again.

Katich, 17, is in the final days of the ICF Freestyle Kayaking World Championships, held in Nantahala Gorge near Bryson City, N.C. -- and he’s leading in his division, Jr. Men’s K1, as he has been throughout week.

Katich, an Auburn, Ala., native, is also the 2012 ICF Jr. Men’s World Cup Champion, though he’s trying not to think of the previous success as a guarantee for the present.

Instead, he tries “to go into the competition with a clear mind.”

Whitewater Columbus GA is sponsoring Katich: he has their logo on his boat; they gave him $1,000. Katich actually has several sponsors, but this has a specific logic: he loves the Chattahoochee River.

“I just grew up on that river and wanted to represent that river and get people to come out there,” Katich said.

Richard Bishop, president of Uptown Columbus Inc., said that Katich has been training on the Chattahoochee River for several years, even before the dams were removed. He usually kayaks with his father.

When Uptown was preparing the whitewater course, Katich helped with the wave-shaper and gave demonstrations to groups.

“He is taking our name into the circuit,” Bishop said.

Freestyle kayaking is an incredibly physical sport, but the ICF Freestyle Championships have a special pressure: competitors gather from all over the world. In order to make the cut for Team U.S.A., Katich had to succeed at team trials.

He came in second. His best friend, Dennis, came in first.

“It’s one of the few competitions I’ve actually lost,” Katich said. “But it made me want to excel even more.”

This summer, he traveled with the rest of his team up through the country, competing frequently. It was the best way to train.

This is the most intense competition he’s been a part of -- a lot of different people, from a lot of different countries. Winning would mean more sponsors; better sponsors.

As of Friday afternoon, Katich was still leading.

“I definitely want to come out with a win,” he said.

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