This past weekend’s Canoe/Kayak Canoe Marathon National Championships on the Oklahoma River also was a trial run for the world championships that will be held in the Boathouse District Sept. 26-28.
It will be the first time that the International Canoe Federation will hold its Canoe Marathon World Championships in the United States.
“It’s a huge deal,” said Oklahoma City paddler Kaitlyn McElroy, who on Sunday qualified with partner Maggie Hogan of Oklahoma City for their third consecutive world championships in marathon racing.
“There are a lot of people excited to come over to the United States and have that chance to race here,” McElroy said.
The last two World Championships have been held in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Rome, Italy. On the international stage, countries such as Spain and South Africa excel in marathon racing.
“The South Africans have an amazing presence in these types of races and so do the Spanish,” Hogan said. “The fitness level you will see at the World Championships is unbelievable. It’s unreal how fast they can run with the boats.”
That’s important because portaging is part of the rules of marathon racing. The marathon racers must dock after completing laps on the Oklahoma River and then sprint to a launching point, carrying their boat and paddles in hand.
McElroy said at the world championships in Rome, spectators would cheer the competitors during the portage as they raced by, much like fans do at a football game in the United States.
“Marathon racing also is pretty big in Canada,” said McElroy, a native of Maine who has competed in marathon racing for prize money in Canada.
The world championships in September will be a great opportunity for people in Oklahoma City “to see what international paddling is like,” she said. “It is a great event to watch and is really is a spectator friendly format.”
The world championships attracted big crowds in Rome with opening and closing ceremonies similar to the Olympic Games, she said.
Hogan hopes the Oklahoma River will be a home field advantage for the American paddlers who train on the Oklahoma River.
She said the national championships over the weekend gave them a chance “to learn the idiosyncrasies of the course and kind of start mapping it out.”
Racers from at least 30 countries are expected to compete in Oklahoma City at the Canoe Marathon World Championships.
“It’s a fun event for everyone,” McElroy said. “It’s serious, but it’s fun. It will be a great event for the city as a whole.”