When it comes to paddling in the Olympics, you have to like having it in a city named after a river.
Such is the case with Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro winning the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, as announced by the IOC in Copenhagen, putting the Games in South America for the first time in history. While the bustling city is renowned for its beaches, iconic landmarks and partying, when it comes to the Olympic paddling events, it’s certain to create waves as well.
“Brazil and Rio are no strangers to hosting canoeing competitions, having held ICF world championships and the Pan American Games,” says ICF Secretary General Simon Toulson. “The sprint will be located centrally in Rio, and the slalom will be in a new park. To bring the Olympics to South America for the first time is a great move and will also open up new areas for canoeing.”
The whitewater events will be located in a brand new arena called Deodoro, a center for extreme sports and purposely clad together, with the sprint events located in the Copacabana Beach area, within ten minutes of the hotels and beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. “The centerpiece of Deodoro will be the X Park,” say organziers. “A venue geared to youth with Mountain Bike, BMX and Canoe-Kayak Slalom. These sports will meld into the most populous and most youthful part of the city.” It will be a permanent course, with seating for 8,000 people.
As for how it might affect the U.S. chances to better their showing from Beijing, in which upstart Benn Fraker commanded the top U.S. spot with a 7th-place showing in whitewater C1, the jury is still out.
“I’m not sure if it’ll affect our chances to medal or not,” says 1992 gold medallist Joe Jacobi, now the interim executive director of USACK. “But the U.S. has always been interested in seeing paddlesports grow, and this is a great opportunity to do that. It’s the first time the Games have ever been held in South America.”
No one knows the U.S. chances better than head slalom coach Silvan Poberaj. More than how the new course might play out is the importance of the time zone the event is held in. “I think the situation will be a little better for us than it will be in London, especially compared to the Europeans,” he says. “For us there won’t be any time zone difference, and the Europeans won’t have any advantage traveling there like they will for London.
“For the rest, all the Olympics are about the same for everyone, because everybody has the same number of days available for training on the Olympic course,” he adds. “The difference may be how hard it will be to qualify for the Games. For the London Games it will be much harder for us to qualify than it was for Beijing. In Bratislava (qualification for London), it will be harder for us to compete against the Europeans than it was in Brazil in 2007. We do not know yet what the qualification will be for Rio.”
As for the sprint events, athletes will enjoy one of the most majestic paddling venues in Olympic history. Rowing and sprint will be held in the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, in the heart of the city and at the foot of the iconic Corcovado Mountain. Athletes will compete under the gaze of Rio’s biggest icon, the statue of Christ the Redeemer. One key feature of the course design will be the installation of a temporary pontoon with 10,000 seats, ensuring a great atmosphere at the finish line. This is also the traditional home of sprint paddling in Rio, and the proposed venue upgrade will leave a legacy that will better accommodate athlete training in the future. “The local clubs and National Federation that use the venue will benefit significantly from the enhancements,” says João Tomasini, president of the Brazilian Canoe Federation.
Perhaps no one in the paddling world is more excited, however, than the host country. “Today is a day to celebrate,” says Tomasini. “All of Brazilian society stands to gain with the Games in Brazil. For canoeing, it will be very important to the evolution of the sport. The legacy of the Games will be very important to the growth of canoeing and it will be a watershed in the history of sport here.”