Olympic trials, festival coming to Charlotte

By Jonathan E. Coleman
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Since being a part of the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing just isn’t a likely option for many, the U.S. National Whitewater Center is offering the next best thing. This weekend, world-class canoeists and kayakers will compete in Charlotte for a chance to represent their country on the biggest stage in sports.

This weekend, the whitewater center plays host to the 2008 Olympic team trials for both the United States and Canada, as well as the Pan American Slalom Championships. The event marks the second of three competitions where athletes accumulate points towards earning a place on the Olympic team.

There are different classes of competition, with men and women competing in single kayak and single and double canoe events. Like in downhill slalom skiing, competitors are judged based on speed down the course and accuracy through gates that are set up along the route.

And while the event is expected to draw some of the world’s best, organizers also expect to draw near-record crowds to take in the action.

“It is (expected to be) the largest whitewater competition the U.S. has ever held outside of the Atlanta Olympics,” said U.S. National Whitewater Center spokesman Lance Kinerk. “We might beat the attendance they had there. We are looking at having over 30,000 people here for the three-day event.”

With only one spot open for the U.S. team, the competition is sure to be high.

“For a lot of these athletes, it means everything,” said Bill McMillan, a spokesman for the Charlotte Regional Sports Commission. “There are other events between now and the games, but this is the team trials. It’s what gets you on the Olympic team. It’s the culmination of all that goes into training.”

And while the competition for Olympic hopefuls will certainly be the central focus of the event, Kinerk said watching the action certainly won’t be the only available entertainment.

“Our goal was to structure this as a three-day event wrapped around the Olympic team trials,” he said. “There’s still the opportunity to get on the water yourself so you can go down the same path the athletes did.”

There will also be a rock climbing wall, musical entertainment and a lounge area, he said.

In addition to providing a fun atmosphere, Kinerk said events like the Olympic trials help draw attention to a sport that many people know very little about. 
Drawing that type of attention was a major reason the whitewater center was constructed in the Charlotte metro region, and the reason events like this are so important.

“The facility was built for the public that is yearning to get outdoors and just have fun,” Kinerk said. “Having the center so close to the metro area gives people the chance to come out and see it and ask questions. From the standpoint of promoting the sport, it has been immense.”

• Contact Jonathan E. Coleman at 704-789-9105.

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