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Spectators, staff members and supporters cheer during Saturday’s 2012 International Canoe Federation Junior & U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships at Wausau Whitewater Park. / T'xer Zhon Kha/For


Cars parked along River Drive last week had plates from more than 15 states across the U.S. -- Michigan, Missouri, Massachusetts and Arizona, to name a few.

Their drivers were among the thousands at Wausau Whitewater Park to watch the competition at the 2012 International Canoe Federation Junior & U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships. With more than 300 athletes from 27 countries, the event drew spectators from across the country, making it one of the biggest Wausau attractions of the year.

Most international spectators were the friends and family members of competitors, identifiable by the team gear they wore bearing the names of their home countries -- Espana, Italia and Australia. It was clear, though, by the constant cheering and shouting, that every team had a group of fans, and not just from their home countries.

Michigan couple Laura and Gray Timm came out to support family friend and competitor Hannah Zarn, 16, from Switzerland. Hannah's dad, Manfred Walter, 57, is a longtime friend of Gray Timm.

"This event is a great opportunity for us to meet up," Walter said. "Our time here at the competition and sightseeing has been very nice."

The Little Explorers from the Aspirus YMCA had their favorites while at the competition to celebrate the group's "water week." While learning about water safety, the children, ages 3 to 6, were repeating cheers in the languages they overheard from the international spectators.

Karen Trench, 54, traveled from Wisconsin Rapids with her son, Josh. Karen Trench said she had been to Wausau Center mall on previous visits, but never knew the whitewater course was just steps away until she saw an ad for the event on TV. After watching just one athlete race, Karen Trench decided to return for more throughout the weekend.

Samantha Holton, 15, of Wausau, went to the park with her friend Michaela Gunseor, 16, of Rib Mountain. The two girls -- on summer break from Wausau West High School -- went to the park to spend a day in the sun and watch the athletes compete. Gunseor said she was impressed with the athletes' talent and upper body strength while paddling upstream, especially considering many of them were her age.

"It's a beautiful day," Holton said. "We've been sitting here listening to people talk in different languages and watching a world-renowned event -- it's crazy."

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