Dylan Puckett, who finished fifth in the consolation finals of the men's 200 meters Friday, 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.
Marcia Smoke from Oklahoma City 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 Friday to watch the Olympic trials on the Oklahoma River.
PATH TO OLYMPICS STARTS ON 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 Sand Ridge Youth League.
OKLAHOMA RIVER INSTALLED WITH NEW UNDERWATER STARTING GATES
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 MAPS3 so there will be gates for every race distance.
SATURDAY'S EVENTS ON THE OKLAHOMA RIVER
Racing begins at 8 a.m. Saturday on the Oklahoma River with competition for non-Olympic World Cup events.
Paddlers will be vying for spots on the senior national team to represent the United States at the World Cup events in May and June in Europe.
Paracanoe athletes will be racing for spots on the national adaptive team to compete at the World Paracanoe Championships at Paznan, Poland, on May 16-17.
Racing concludes at noon and will be followed the Paddle Now! Youth Experience where kids in grades second through ninth can get on the water with the competitors.
Autograph sessions with the athletes will be at 11 a.m. in the Chesapeake Finish Line Tower.