Ten years ago, the Oklahoma River didn't have water.
Now it will be home to the national governing body for the Olympic sports of flatwater sprint and white-water slalom.
USA Canoe/Kayak announced Tuesday that it is relocating its headquarters from Charlotte, N.C., to Oklahoma City.
“We are proud to be the only Olympic sport that is based in Oklahoma now,” said Joe Jacobi, chief executive officer for USA Canoe/Kayak.
The move by USA Canoe/Kayak to Oklahoma City is more evidence of how the Boathouse District is changing the national perception that Oklahomans still live in a dust bowl, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said.
“We've built a river that's become that's become not only a health and fitness destination for our citizens, but a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for our nation's Olympic kayakers and rowers,” Cornett said.
USA Canoe/Kayak will share offices and staff with the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation.
“It's very cool to be in the center of the country where we can serve the sport better,” Jacobi said.
No other city in the country has shown more commitment to the sports of rowing and kayaking than Oklahoma City, he said.
“I know it looks like a flat river, but that (Oklahoma River) has more momentum than any river in the country right now,” he said.
Permanent lights are going to be added on the Oklahoma River racecourse, and a white-water center is scheduled to be built.
“Becoming the headquarters of a national governing board is a testament to how powerful the MAPS initiatives truly are in influencing our ability to recreate and redefine the city,” Cornett said.
“We don't really know what this is going to lead to. But I suspect it will lead to things we cannot imagine today.”
USA Canoe/Kayak opened an office in Oklahoma City in December 2009. Tuesday's announcement makes Oklahoma City its permanent home.
“This is our base of operations,” Jacobi said. “This is where we are going to grow the sport from.”
USA Canoe/Kayak oversees 10 different disciplines of competitive paddling. When the white-water course is built on the Oklahoma River, USA Canoe/Kayak will be able to stage all 10 of the sport's disciplines in one venue, Jacobi said.
“We've never been able to do that before in the United States,” he said. “Oklahoma City will be the only place where we can put Olympic white-water slalom and Olympic flatwater sprint racing side by side in a world class venue.”
Mike Knopp, executive director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, said the relocation by USA Canoe/Kayak to Oklahoma City will attract more events to the Oklahoma River.
“It's very much about prestige,” he said. “It's says a lot about our commitment to the river and how the community supports the sport. It's a feather in our cap for Oklahoma City.”
Jacobi said he is impressed how Oklahoma City residents have been willing “to embrace something new and different.” College football is not the only sport the state is known for anymore, he said.
“Look at the success of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and the Thunder and now the river,” he said. “These are real game-changers for the city and have reshaped the way people outside of Oklahoma City look at this community.”
USA Canoe/Kayak had been headquartered in Charlotte since 2003.
USA Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit membership organization now based in Oklahoma City that promotes canoe and kayak racing in the United States.
A member of the United States Olympic Committee, USA Canoe/Kayak is the national governing body for the Olympic sports of flatwater sprint and whitewater slalom and the official United States federation of the International Canoe Federation.
Other paddling sports sanctioned by USA Canoe/Kayak include marathon, freestyle, wildwater, stand up paddleboard, canoe polo, canoe sailing, outrigger and dragon boat.