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Oklahoma City had a kayaking star long before the Boathouse District’s arrival

Long before anyone ever imagined racing canoes and kayaks in downtown Oklahoma City on the Oklahoma River, Marcia Jones Smoke was the best female kayaker in the country.

BY ED GODFREY Modified: September 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm •  Published: September 30, 2012
/articleid/3714511/1/pictures/1846075">Photo - Boats compete on a cloudy, rainy day at the Oklahoma Regatta Festival on the Oklahoma River on Saturday. The event ends Sunday. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Boats compete on a cloudy, rainy day at the Oklahoma Regatta Festival on the Oklahoma River on Saturday. The event ends Sunday. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Jones Smoke said her sister, Sperry, was faster than her in all sports but paddling. Jones Smoke won every individual kayaking race at the ’64 Olympic Trials in New York City and earned a trip to Tokyo for the Olympic Games.

The kayaking events were held at Lake Sagami, 30 miles from Tokyo. No one expected anything from the Americans. The sport was — and still is — dominated by Europeans.

Jones Smoke and the other American kayakers showed up at Lake Sagami three weeks early for the Olympic Games.

“Our coach didn’t want to rent a motor boat for $5 an hour to come work with us,” she said. “We were on our own.”

The Italian coach, a native of Hungary, approached the American girls and offered to help, Jones Smoke said.

“He took us under his wing and worked with us for three weeks,” she said. “He got us really good.”

On Oct. 22, 1964, she captured the bronze medal in the K1 500 meters. She displays her Olympic medal today on the fireplace mantel in her home in Buchanan, Mich., where she has lived for 44 years.

She would make the USA Olympic kayaking team twice more, in both 1968 and 1972.

She finished fourth in the 1968 Olympic Games. Partnering with her sister, they placed seventh in a doubles race. In the 1972 Olympic Games, she finished ninth.

Jones Smoke was the United States kayaking champion 11 consecutive years, from 1963 to 1973. One year, she had to share the national title with her sister.

“My sister tied me once, and she never let me forget it,” she said.

The American Canoe Association didn’t have two gold medals, so they gave the Jones sisters both the gold and the silver. Their mother had a jeweler cut the medals and join together a half from each.

“So I have a medal that is silver and gold,” she said.

Today, Jones Smoke lives on the St. Joseph River, where she kayaks five times a week.

Twice a year, she returns to Oklahoma City to check on a real estate investment company that she inherited from her mother and to visit an aunt in Del City.

She has visited the Boathouse District a few times, but it’s still hard for her to fathom the state-of-the-art boathouses on the Oklahoma River and that Oklahoma City is now home to an Olympic training site.

“Wish they had it when I was paddling,” she said.

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