U.S. moves canoe-kayak headquarters

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The national governing body for Olympic canoeing and kayaking is moving its headquarters to Oklahoma City.

USA Canoe/Kayak CEO Joe Jacobi announced Tuesday that the group's offices will move from Charlotte, N.C., to the site where the sports held their 2008 Olympic trials for flatwater events.

Oklahoma City has become a hub for rowing in the United States after a riverbed that sat dry for decades was redeveloped about a decade ago. A series of boathouses are being built along the Oklahoma River just east of downtown, and another $57 million will be spent in the next few years on further improvements, including a whitewater course.

"I think what we get here is a very fresh look at how a new community embraces a sport," Jacobi said.

Jacobi said USA Canoe/Kayak will benefit from pooling resources with the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, which is able to help with marketing and branding and put on innovative events to try and grow the sport's popularity.

In addition to the Olympic trials, Oklahoma City has hosted international rowing events and the Head of the Oklahoma collegiate regatta in recent years as the sport takes on a foothold in a new locale.

There hadn't been much paddling history in Oklahoma until a series of dams were built to put water back in a river that engineers had essentially done away with to alleviate flooding problems that occurred in the early 20th century.

Once the river was brought back to life, area college programs have launched rowing teams and started to build boathouses along the river.

Chesapeake Energy signed on as the sponsor of a boathouse and a tower that was built to mark the finish line of rowing events and another local energy company, Devon, also sponsors a boathouse. The area also is home to a national high-performance training center and the new whitewater course, at a cost of about $33.3 million, is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

"This is like a look into the future of paddling," Jacobi said.

All of the momentum makes Oklahoma City "the ideal location for the epicenter of our efforts and initiatives to grow paddlesports," Jacobi said.

While Jacobi said having the headquarters in Oklahoma City will make it easier to stage rowing events and meetings, the group still plans to spread out its major competitions such as the Olympic trials. Olympic-bound athletes are also allowed to train wherever they and their coaches decide is the best, he said.

Part of the mission of USA Canoe/Kayak is to maximize the country's medal output at the Olympics and other international events, but also to encourage participation in the sports nationwide and secure funding.

"If all we do is do everything in Oklahoma City, it's not going to necessarily help people in other parts of the country," Jacobi said.

Jacobi said USA Canoe/Kayak -- already a small operation -- will continue to have a small presence in Charlotte, which will host the whitewater Olympic trials before next year's London Olympics.

"At the end of the day, we are a national governing body," Jacobi said. "This is not about one community."