The Oklahoma River not only looks like an Olympic-quality venue, now it actually is.
The Oklahoma River was the site for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for Flatwater Sprint last weekend, April 20-21, and athletes from across the country came to vie for top ranking.
“The Oklahoma River is an ideal location for us to host these events as we select our top athletes for 2012 and identify talent as we look toward 2016,” USA Canoe/Kayak CEO Joe Jacobi said when the trials were first announced.
“We’re also excited to offer metro-area youth the opportunity to actually kayak with some of these top athletes in the nation as part of the event.”
USA Canoe/Kayak also held its National Team Trials for the 2012 ICF World Cup and ICF ParaCanoe World Championships during the event.
Path to the Olympics
Dylan Puckett, who finished fifth in the consolation finals of the men’s 200 meters April 20, became the first Oklahoma kayaker to compete in an Olympic trial since the Boathouse District was built on the Oklahoma River.
However, the 16-year-old from Jones is not the first Oklahoman to paddle in an Olympic trial.
In fact, the greatest American female sprint kayaker in the history of the sport is from Oklahoma.
That honor goes to Marcia Smoke
from Oklahoma City. Smoke is only one of two American women to medal in kayaking in the Olympics.
A graduate of Casady High School and Michigan State University, Smoke won a bronze medal in the 1964 Olympics in the women’s 500 meters and was a multi-time national champion in the sport.
She competed in two more Olympics, narrowly missing another bronze in 1968 by finishing fourth.
Smoke, 70, now lives in Buchanan, Mich., but she and her son, Jeff, who represented the United States in kayaking in the 2004 Olympics, were in Oklahoma City on April 20 to watch the Olympic trials on the Oklahoma River.
Puckett’s participation in the U.S. Olympic Trial is an example for other landlocked Oklahomans who might have Olympic aspirations in paddling, said Shaun Caven, former British National coach and director of Canoe/Kayak at the OKC High Performance Center.
Puckett started at age 12 in the OKC RIVERSPORT in the sprint canoe/kayak youth program with no previous experience and became a two-time junior national champion.
“It proves if you build a facility and employ a couple of coaches who half know what they are doing, there is no reason you can’t be champions,” Caven said.
About 150 high school age and younger athletes are competing in kayaking through the OKC RIVERSPORT SandRidge Youth League.
Underwater starting gates installed
The U.S. Olympic Trial was the debut of a pneumatic starting gate system for racing on the Oklahoma River.
It is the same system that will be used in the Olympic Games in London.
The submerged gates ensure every paddler starts the race at the same time and is lined up equally at the starting line, similar to a horse race.
The new gates were bought by Devon Energy and Chesapeake Energy and took six weeks to arrive to Oklahoma.
They were installed by a scuba diver from Hungary on Thursday.
They are used at every Olympic, World Cup and world championship paddling and rowing event.
Two more permanent pneumatic starting gates will be installed on the Oklahoma River as part of MAPS 3 so there will be gates for every race distance.
Ed Godfrey, staff writer