Canoe Fed Confident in Rio Venue Despite Athlete Doubts

(ATR) The leader of the International Canoe Federation says Rio 2016 whitewater venue construction will begin in September.

(ATR) International Canoe Federation canoe slalom chairman Jean-Michel Prono says that construction of the Rio 2016 whitewater venue will finally begin in early September with ambitions of staging a test event late next year.

Prono advised of the updated timeline for the venue, which has faced numerous uncertainties including rumors of being moved to Foz de Iguassu, some 700 miles from Rio de Janeiro, in an interview with Around the Rings at last weekend’s ICF world cup in Prague.

"The model for the course is now developed and the memorandum for the start of construction will be by early July with the actual construction planned to start the first of September," Prono said of the whitewater venue, which will be part of Rio’s Deodoro Sports Complex.

"If everything goes well, delivery will be end of September 2015," Prono said.

"We have to be confident. We are on a very tricky, tight timeline."

Prono noted that a testevent could be held at the end of October or beginning of November. A pre-Olympic training period would then happen from March until the start of the 2016 Games.

Immediately following last September’s ICF world championships in Prague, Prono, along with ICF president José Perurena López, IOC athletes commission member Tony Estanguet, and other staff made an emergency trip to Brazil as speculation arose that Rio organizers were considering moving the competitions to distant Foz de Iguassu.

Since the initial meeting with Rio organizers, ICF members, including a technical expert hired by the federation, have made multiple visits to Brazil.

"Our federation has been involved from early on in this project and we have a very good relationship with Rio 2016," Prono said. "We were the first [international federation] to address these problems, and I think in some ways, our experiences being pro-active could be a model for the other sports."

Whitewater Parks International (WPI) is the contractor for Rio 2016, handling the planning, design, and development of the Canoe Slalom "X-Park" venue, which will be shared with mountain bike events. It is the third Olympic Games that WPI has overseen these tasks.

Athletes Voice Concerns About Venue

Despite the ambitious plans for the "X-Park" Olympic whitewater venue, some of the sport’s elite athletes remain skeptical, including London 2012 kayak gold medalist Daniele Molmenti.

"The news I have heard has been strange. Some are saying they are still deciding where to do the slalom course," said the Italian kayaker Molmenti. "If they haven’t started on the course, it’s pretty late. It’s hard to make a slalom course in a year and a half.

"From the faces I see from the ICF, they seem really worried," Molmenti added.

"I’m pretty worried, but I am sure they will fix things before the Games."

Hannes Aigner of Germany, who won the men’s singles kayak event in Prague, expressed similar concerns.

"We’ve have heard about the problems, and I don’t think it will be possible to train there in the autumn of 2015," Aigner said. "If it is possible to train there in 2016, a few months before or even a few weeks before the Games, I think everything will be okay."

Prono also emphasized the importance of the sustainability and legacy of the Olympic whitewater venue, pointing out that recreational paddling could be enjoyed by Brazilians and tourists through a myriad of programs for years to follow.

Upon completion, the Olympic Whitewater Center will be the most modern artificial course in the southern hemisphere.

Brazilian kayaker Pedro Da Silva expressed excitement for his country and the potential long-term benefits for his team.

"It is such a big project in Brazil and even when you have the money, it’s difficult to start the project," Da Silva said. "I think the work is starting and, for Brazilian canoeing, this is a start for us to get medals in World Cups and world championships."

"Rio is a magical city, and I think Brazil will be in a better situation after the Olympics."

Update on Deodoro Venue Construction

As reported Monday by Mark Bisson, Around the Rings has learned that construction work on the Deodoro Olympic Park will begin next week – ahead of schedule.

"Deodoro starts at the end of the month," Rio 2016’s director of communications Mario Andrada told ATR.

The work at the multi-sport Deodoro complex is being implemented by Brazilian construction conglomerate Queiroz Galvão at an estimated cost of $643 million.

The delay-hit Deodoro Olympic hub remains the IOC’s biggest headache two years out from the games. It will host not only canoeing, but also mountain biking, equestrian, fencing, hockey, modern pentathlon, rugby, and shooting.

Andrada said that development of the whitewater course will be the most difficult at the new venue.

World Championships Return to U.S.

The ICF canoe slalom world championships return to the United States for the first time in 25 years, being staged at Deep Creek Lake in McHenry, Maryland, September 17-21.

Paddlers will compete at the world’s only mountaintop re-circulating whitewater course, located approximately 300 kilometers west of Washington, D.C.

United States Canoe/Kayak Association CEO Joe Jacobi suggested that the event is a good opportunity for Washington D.C. to showcase a potential Olympic venue in its campaign to become the U.S. bid for 2024, a decision that will be made by the USOC next year.

"We hope that the United States Olympic Committee will do their part and really get behind this," Jacobi told Around the Rings.

"We think that Washington 2024 will really embrace us as an opportunity to showcase what they’re capable of doing and what staging an international event a few hours outside of D.C. would mean to the world."

Jacobi, in addition to some of the sport’s top athletes, said it is a golden opportunity to showcase the traditionally European sport in the U.S.

"There are some major rock stars of the sport over in Europe, and it is good for them to be competing in the United States," Jacobi said.

"There are more recreational paddlers in the U.S. than any country in the world so this is an important fan base to engage."

London 2012 bronze medalist Hannes Aigner said he is looking forward to racing in the U.S.

"Usually all of the World Cups and everything is in Europe, so for the athletes it’s a good experience to paddle somewhere else besides the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or in Germany," said the 25-year-old German kayaker.

"It’s good to bring the sport to some other great countries which have great potential for competitions."

Written by Brian Pinelli in Prague

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