On Tuesday, Dec. 13, USA Canoe/Kayak, the governing body for competitive paddling in the U.S., announced that it is moving its long-time headquarters from Charlotte, N.C., to a new state-of-the-art training and competitive facility on the banks of the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma, City, Okla. C&K caught up with CEO and Olympic gold medalist Joe Jacobi for his take on the move and what it spells for USACK.
C&K: 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.
C&K: What 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.
C&K: Will USACK still use 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.
C&K: 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.
C&K: 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.
C&K: 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.