“We’re launching a new era in paddlesports in the U.S., with a focus on enabling U.S. athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence in Olympic, Paralympic and other international competition,” says CEO Joe Jacobi. “With the momentum taking place at the Oklahoma River – from the National High Performance Center for kayaking and rowing to the citizen-voted sales tax initiative to fund a whitewater center and race course improvements to the Oklahoma River – Oklahoma City is the ideal location for the epicenter of our efforts to grow paddlesports.”
USA Canoe/Kayak will office with the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, allowing the two organizations to collaborate. “The significance of USA Canoe/Kayak’s relocation to Oklahoma City – in what was once known as ‘the dust bowl state’ – is indicative of the speed of change this community is creating,” adds Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “We’ve built a river that’s become not only a health-and-fitness destination, but a training site for our nation’s aspiring Olympians.”
“It builds synergy between elite athletes, local youth and adults, and the local business community,” adds U.S. Olympic Committee Chief of Sport Performance Alan Ashley. “We’re hopeful that this approach will help USA Canoe/Kayak continue to build their talent pipeline and develop top athletes to represent Team USA.”
A central component to USA Canoe/Kayak’s growth is the “Paddle Now!” program, which encourages families across America to explore our nation’s waterways in kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and stand up paddleboards (learn more at www.usack.org/paddlenow).
“This nation has intrinsic ties to waterways – from the days of early explorers and Native Americans to today’s active adventurers. We truly believe Oklahoma City is the place to rekindle our nation’s passion for paddlesports,” Jacobi says.
A live stream broadcast of the announcement took place Tuesday, Dec. 13, which was viewable on Paddling Life and Canoe & Kayak magazine’s web site.
PL caught up with CEO Jacobi for his take on the move and what it spells for USACK.
What predicated the move?
Jacobi: Great organizations ask themselves tough questions, set high standards, challenge themselves to improve, embrace change and align themselves with partners with a common vision for success. The relocation sets many exciting changes in place for USA Canoe/Kayak, from how we work with the industry to bring new participants into the sport to building a high-performance program that can place American paddlers on the podium on an ongoing basis. Oklahoma City has created a tremendous new vision for the sport – the $100 million Oklahoma City Boathouse District creates a holistic paddling community where athletes can train alongside people trying it for the first time with unprecedented ease and access. Soon, with the construction of a world-class whitewater park, all ten of our padding disciplines will be able to practice and compete at one venue. This is no different than a core principles of paddling whitewater – align yourself with the most momentum that the river offers. The Oklahoma River has incredible momentum and we’ve positioned our boat well.
Will being closer to the USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs offer an advantage?
Jacobi: As a member of the United States Olympic Committee, our proximity to their base of operations is a tremendous advantage. From both sports performance and business operations standpoints, the USOC is an important resource for our sport. But our move is important for USOC, too. The Oklahoma River is a designated U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site and the model that the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation created is unlike any other that’s ever been developed in the Olympic movement. Our partnership with the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation blazes a new path by which a national governing body and an Olympic training site can work together. Re-creating this model in other US cities is critical to the future success of the U.S. Olympic Team and the USOC.
What all does the new facility offer?
Jacobi: The Oklahoma City Boathouse District is simply unreal – it’s truly a look into the future of paddlesports. We sometimes call it, “The Jetsons go kayaking.” Located in the trendy Bricktown area of downtown, our Boathouses — the five-year-old, $3.5-million Chesapeake Boathouse and the one-year-old, $10 million Devon Boathouse and high performance center — are game-changing facilities in the way people engage in paddling. People of any age and any ability now have a sense of place, community, pride and excellence in their pursuit of the paddling. Then we have the brand new $6-million, four-story Chesapeake Finish Line Tower right on the finish line of the sprint course in the heart of the Boathouse District. It houses an event management floor, a broadcast production studio, a visitors center and gift shop, and the top floor offers a conference and hospitality center, a true sky suite for paddlesports and rowing with panoramic views of the river and downtown.
Will USACK still be using the Charlotte facility?
Jacobi: Our position in Oklahoma City is set to take our partnership with Charlotte and the U.S. National Whitewater Center to a higher level. We are deeply committed to this community and looking forward to creating more opportunities to grow the sport in Charlotte. Initiatives that we have recently accomplished and/or committed to in the near future include: choosing the U.S. National Whitewater Center to host our 2012 Whitewater Slalom Olympic Trials; opening a beautiful office space for our Charlotte-based staff at 601 East Boulevard in the Dilworth community; establishing a progressive partnership with SwimMAC Carolina, a USA Swimming Gold Medal Swim Club, that includes sharing office space in the Dilworth community; continuing to build our synergetic sports medicine partnership with Charlotte-based Novant Health/Presbyterian; working closely with the U.S. National Whitewater Center to re-certify the venue as an U.S. Olympic Training Site; and hiring a full-time national coach based in Charlotte to support our top contenders to represent us at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Will it be open to the public?
Jacobi: The U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is a terrific facility but it’s a shame that there’s a fence around the venue. While the fence helps define the venue as an elite athlete destination, the average person driving by it misses a valuable connection to amazing ambassadors for their sport and country. That’s not the case in Oklahoma City – no fences, no barriers and no obstacles. If you want to sit on the grass beside the finish line tower, have a picnic, perhaps enjoy a movie on the outdoor screen, you can. If you sign up for a gym membership, you might be lifting weights next to an athlete competing in London. Wedding receptions at the Boathouses often take place while athletes make their way to and from training sessions. Making our sport and our training centers publicly accessible will support the growth of our sport.
What’s the overall state of the U.S. teams heading into London?
Jacobi: Both of our sprint and slalom teams have persevered though many challenges over the past three years. Heading into the homestretch, a few athletes have emerged as strong contenders to perform well in London. In slalom side, we have secured Olympic slots in men’s and women K1. There’s a lot of depth and podium experience in the men’s K1 field. We have strong challengers in C1 led by Benn Fraker and Casey Eichfeld but the C1s and the C2s still need to qualify slots at the Pan American Championships in Brazil in March. For sprint, two-time Olympian Carrie Johnson is racing and training at a great level. There will be tight racing for the sole men’s kayak slot qualified by Hawaii’s Ryan Dolan at the Pan Am Games in October. From a program standpoint, slalom has a few athletes competing at or near the top of the sport and two U-23 athletes who won medals at the top development races in Europe last summer. But we need to get much better at recruiting new participants to the sport. On the sprint side, there has been some fantastic work accomplished in the development program – new clubs coming on board and a strong coachs’ education program has helped to build a new base of participants. But we need to position our athletes to meet the standards in place by countries such Germany, Hungary and Great Britain. Our best shots for medals in London right now are Carrie Johnson for sprint and two-time Olympian Scott Parsons for slalom. But there’s a long a way to go before the Games begin.
Any new programs ahead for USACK?
Jacobi: One of the most exciting initiatives at USA Canoe/Kayak is our launch of “Paddle Now!”—a national campaign to get people on the water with a paddle in their hand. Positioned to align with our organizational partners, Paddle Now! combines a variety of innovative ideas, programs and events into a single primary objective for the sport – introduce more people to paddling. Ultimately, this program will create a new level of membership and sanctioning at USA Canoe/Kayak, be a terrific resource to our clubs and allow our best organizational and competitive attributes to support our broader campaigns and events. People can get more information on the program at www.USACK.org/PaddleNow.