COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The 2023 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships wrapped up Saturday afternoon as thousands poured into the Fountain City for the week-long competition described as “gymnastics in the water.”

Over 200 world-class athletes representing 18 countries all vying for the gold. The championships closed out with the much anticipated Men’s and Women’s Kayak Finals at Waveshaper Island. In the end, two freestyle world champions defended their titles.

I’m on top of the world right now. I had no idea that this is how it would end up. I try to keep my goals small, just like, work your way up through the heats and try to make finals. And then I was in finals, and I just had a moment of, yup I can throw my ride.

Sage Donnelly, Women’s Freestyle World Champion

I love this opportunity to get to paddle these people and then for me to be able to come out on top again and get another win, I mean, that just made it even better.

Dane Jackson, Men’s Freestyle World Champion

Five-time world champion, Dane Jackson, started freestyle kayaking at just 6 years old. Now at 30, he achieved another accomplishment, finishing the Men’s Finals in first place.

The first person Jackson celebrated with was his father, Olympian and 4-time World Champion, Eric Jackson. In the midst of celebration, Jackson almost missed his last run when he knew the gold medal would be his – but decided to uphold a tradition his father started.  

“It’s basically like when you go last in the finals of an event, if no one beats you before your last ride, that means you have essentially a victory lap. You can go out and try to go big or you can have some fun and go without a paddle. And for me, I like doing that because going out in the final, seeing how many points I can get without a paddle… it’s just a really fun way to kind of finish off the event.”    

Dane Jackson, Men’s Freestyle World Champion

Professional kayakers representing France, Canada, Great Britain, Japan and the U.S. held nothing back, completing 360-degree spins and flips underwater. 

Sage Donnelly,23, brought home the gold in the women’s finals, despite the odds of facing type 1 diabetes. She says it’s incredibly meaningful to her to represent other athletes who may be going through the same thing.

I get messages every day on Instagram saying, I just got diagnosed. My doctor said, I can never play the sport that I love again. What do I do? And I think for me, I love showing that you can do what you love and you can achieve your goals still. It takes a little bit of extra work, obviously, because you have to manage what your body’s doing, but it is easily obtainable.    

Sage Donnelly, Women’s Freestyle World Champion

Ed Wolverton, the President of Uptown Columbus, says the Columbus economy will benefit from the event.

Visit Columbus did an economic study that looked at both this event and the 2022 World Cups. They were awarded together, and they put the value at $9.2 million economic impact to the community between the two events.

Ed Wolverton, President of Uptown Columbus

To view the results from the 2023 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships, visit their website here.