Widgets Magazine
  • If OKC gets Olympic whitewater events, could others follow?

    As we reported earlier this week, Oklahoma City is in a strong position to land six canoe slalom events as part of the 2028 Summer Games hosted by Los Angeles.

    Final decisions are to be made by the organizing committee and International Olympic Committee on all sports and venues before the end of 2023 in order to allow for the considerable planning and construction that would be involved.

    If Oklahoma City was indeed granted the canoe slalom events to be held in the Riversport Rapids Whitewater Center and that is a very real possibility the door may be opened to river-based events such as rowing and sprint kayak and canoe.

    As it stands, LA28 sought and received approval to host rowing events at the Long Beach Marina, even though constraints would require all 7 rowing competitions to be shortened from 2,000 meters -- long the Olympic and international standard to 1,500 meters.

    As we also reported, there has been much recent movement on the Oklahoma River to provide clear-span rowing for a full 2,000 meters, including plans for the complete replacement of the two I-35 bridges over the waterway. Renderings show suspension structures that would eliminate any columns in the river. It would also feature a viewing platform for river events.

    Planned I-35 bridges and viewing area

    Also very recently, plans have been submitted to construct a pedestrian bridge across the Oklahoma River near the massive OKANA project that is under construction. The planning schedule shows that section of the river being drained later this year to facilitate construction on the bridge and a landing for Oklahoma River Cruises.

    The plans for the pedestrian bridge also show a starting platform directly to the west for 2,000-meter rowing races.

    Planned pedestrian bridge and rowing start

    River boat landing

    For the 2024 Summer Games in Paris, they will have a new whitewater facility constructed directly next to a river where rowing will be held. This is a very similar configuration that exists in Oklahoma City.

    In Paris, they are planning to host 12,000 fans for the whitewater sessions and 10,000 for rowing. Each series of events, composed of multiple heats and then the final medal round, runs about a week to 10 days.

    Since the only viable option in Los Angeles is to shorten all the rowing events, and since it would be held in a very dense area where it would be difficult to construct spectator seating, there may be an opportunity for Oklahoma City to take on rowing as well, with promises to complete the I-35 bridges and other work before 2028.

    The Oklahoma River has ample space to place stands for river and whitewater events. And if Oklahoma City was awarded the six canoe slalom events there would be synergies and cost savings in adding rowing as well, as opposed to a sub-optimal location in Long Beach which is nowhere near related events.

    Proposed rowing grandstand

    View from grandstand

    Local officials and the Olympic organizing committee will not speak about any of these possibilities until official announcements are made before the end of the year.

    But be sure that Oklahoma City would love to have both canoe slalom and rowing and perhaps a few other river-based Olympic events as well. Most facilities are already in place and due to planning that has been performed, the remainder could be completed well in advance of July 2028.

    One other obvious possibility: What about softball? Oklahoma City is already the softball capital of the U.S. and Hall of Fame Stadium holds 12,000, far more than any other softball-specific stadium in the country. OKC has ample experience hosting large softball events such as the just-concluded Women's College World Series after another wildly successful run.

    Softball has yet to be made officially part of the 2028 Games but is still a possibility. The Olympics added softball in 1996, with the U.S. winning that year, in 2000 in Sydney, and in 2004 in Athens. It had been absent since 2008 but then included in Tokyo for 2020. But softball will not be a part of the 2024 Paris Games.

    Since it is unknown if Los Angeles will even include softball in the 2028 Summer Games, any opportunity for Oklahoma City to host would be a longshot.

    Splitting events between cities and even countries is the new normal for Olympic Games. The evolution was necessary to help defray costs and avoid cities constructing expensive facilities that are then effectively thrown away, as would be the case if LA28 chose to keep the whitewater events in Southern California.

    It may sound strange that a host city like Los Angeles would farm out events as far away as Oklahoma City, but there are solid economic and logistical reasons to do so. Case in point: for the Paris 2024 Summer Games, the surfing competition will take place in Tahiti.

    It is anticipated Oklahoma City will know its exact role in the 2028 Games sometime this fall.

    Boathouse Row Masterplan

    Conceptual layout

    Rowing course; OKANA development in the foreground

    OKANA development
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