As the competitive season winds down, there is often a period of reflection about the state of canoe/kayak events on the international stage. My Facebook stream is loaded with posts and links to blogs and articles about taking our competitive events to the next level.
In September, I had the opportunity to attend three International Canoe Federation (ICF) World Championships in a three week period. With "behind-the-scenes" access, I saw each host organizing committee taking different paths to producing premiere ICF events. Two of these events, Canoe Slalom and Canoe Marathon World Championships, come to the U.S. next year.
But the other event was the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships held in Wesser, North Carolina, adjacent to the iconic Nantahala Outdoor Center, leaders in whitewater and outdoor adventure and strong supporters of Olympic paddlesports with 22 Canoe/Kayak Olympians having worked for the company through its 41 year-old history.
Huge crowd under the lights at the Freestyle Worlds on the Nantahala River
The organizers of the World Championships on the Nantahala River produced an outstanding event that struck a powerful chord with the target audience. The "event experience" for spectators, sponsors, VIPs and media in attendance seamlessly wove together a platform of technology, hospitality, retail, entertainment and high performance that fully engaged all the senses of competitive paddlesports.
On the broadcast platform, the live-streaming event coverage, functioned beautifully and attracted over 70,000 unique views. And what is emerging as an excellent traditional television alternative for paddlesports here in the U.S., a post-produced broadcast of the Freestyle World Championships is being prepped for distribution to more than 80 million households via Fox Sports Network. Such post-produced shows allow the sport to develop the memorable storylines and target the broadcast times for more effective calls-to-action.
Teaser for the Freestyle Worlds broadcast production coming in Spring, 2014
Over the past several years, the ICF has significantly raised the standard of hosting events requiring a huge investment of people, time and resources. The desire to meet this standard here in the U.S. must be purposeful, professionally-driven and aligned with USA Canoe/Kayak's mission and strategic goals.
We thank our partners at the Nantahala River for hosting an exceptional World Championships that reinforced our passion and capabilities for welcoming international competitions to the U.S. And to the leadership of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, thank you for including USA Canoe/Kayak and ICF events in the vision for the future.
Late summer brings about a slew of ICF World Championships and USA Canoe/Kayak is set to step up with a more prominent role in 2013. From competing to hosting to building event management skills, five World Championships over the next few weeks represent a huge opportunity for our athletes and organization.
The march towards Paracanoe's inaugural appearance on the Paralympic program in Rio continues at the Paracanoe World Championships in late August in Duisburg, Germany. With increased investment in Paracanoe programs around the world, expect to see a big performance jump among this discipline at Worlds in 2013. Team USA sends 11 athletes to this event.
The Paracanoe Worlds will be contested alongside the Sprint World Championships at the same venue. One particular Team USA story that stands out is that of Arezou Motamedi, who was born in Iran and is set to race her first World Championships representing USA Canoe/Kayak in Duisburg. As we measure our athletic progress, track results and pursue medals, it's amazing to imagine what it means for Arezou to don a USA jersey and compete for the United States at a World Championships. This has been a unique journey for Arezou - we are proud to have her competing for our team!
Arezou (left) with members of Riversport OKC Youth Kayak Team
One of these five World Championships comes to the United States this year - the Freestyle Kayaking Worlds will be staged on North Carolina's Nantahala River adjacent to the iconic Nantahala Outdoor Center. Our partners at the Nantahala have done incredible work in raising the profile of this sport. Here's a preview of what's coming:
The Slalom Worlds in Prague and Canoe Marathon Worlds in Copenhagen set up a hand off of next year's Worlds Championships to the United States. Our partners in Western Maryland and the Adventure Sports Center International will join us in Prague and leaders from the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation will be in Copenhagen working with the ICF to meet the increasing standards associated with hosting a World Championships and raising the profile of the sport.
Putting our best foot forward in all elements of these World Championships helps to build our organization, develop our international partnerships, increase training and competitive opportuntiies for our athletes and attract top paddlers from around the world to the United States to train and compete with our Teams.
It's during this time we advance our 4th organizational goal (out of five) to expand our global influence. In addition to the service provided by loyal volunteers and officials, by the end of this run, 50% of our USA Canoe/Kayak Board of Directors will have attended at least one of these 2013 World Championships.
Over the next few weeks as we continue our progress both on and off the water, please support our efforts keep this momentum going.
Finally, the best part about a World Championships is crowning a new World Champion. And we have a reigning one working for USA Canoe/Kayak now. Michele Eray joins our team as the Sprint High Performance Manager and just a few weeks after claiming Gold at the Surf Ski Kayak Worlds in Portugal. Michele's experience as a 2008 Olympic Finalist in the K-4 event, a World Class endurance kayaker, an outstanding coach and successful entrepreneur brings a powerful element to our organization and headquarters in Oklahoma City. Welcome Michele!
Stay tuned to the blog for more updates and thank you for your support of USA Canoe/Kayak.
Twenty months ago, USA Canoe/Kayak embarked upon a professionally-led process that set five key strategic goals for the organizaiton. The goals we created were a balance of building a stronger enterprise and achieving better performances at the most important events. This past weekend, USA Canoe/Kayak Board Chairman, Bob Lally, and I had the privilege of attending the ICF Junior & U-23 Sprint World Championships in Welland, Canada where we witnessed progress in both of these areas.
A World Championships in any discipline represents a critcial performance benchmark - an opportunity to evaluate your work and results against the best in the world. Such events also bring together the key stakeholders in the sport - National Federations, Olympic Committees, event organizers and officials to name a few. With that here are three of my key take-aways from these World Championships and how they relate to our some of our specific goals:
1) Improving Performance
At first glance, you see a number a Team USA Athletes with B-Final performances. These results, which land between 10th and 18th place, are significant jump forward compared to past results. Add in a significant jump by the field around us - a point universally acknowledged by the top programs at these Worlds - and we see our program evolving in a very positive direction.
Here's what you don't see when you're scanning the results online - the response from our athletes to their B-Finals performances and the spirit they are carrying forward. A few short years ago, we had zero B-Finals performances at this level of competition. Today, the athletes who are moving closer to top performances are simply not satisified with narrowly missing out on the A-Finals. That moment when you see our athletes realize they can make this jump and re-commit themselves to the opportunity is simply awesome.
1A) Emergence of a Canoe Program
The work of our canoe athletes is inspiring. Our results in Men's and Women's Canoe categories reinforced terrific momentum in this previously underserved discipline. Claudiu Cuir has brought a wealth of high performance experience to canoe athletes based out of the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club. And our National Development Program now splits kayak and canoe training camps so canoe athletes (men's and women's) and canoe coaches are focusing on competitive and technical elements unique to this discipline.
Moving towards USA Canoe/Kayak's 3rd goal - to achieve sustained international competitive success - not only doing these improving results reflect well on our athletes but also on our Clubs and Club Coaches.
2) Fostering International Relationships
The more I attend international events, the more I am reminded of the sport's home-base in Europe. While it's great to see a number of events moving around the globe over the next few years, critical movements in the sport are largely orginating thousands of miles from the United States over in Europe.
Having said that, nothing can replace the person-to-person investment of time, energy and conversation exploring EVERYONE's top interest - the good of competitive paddlesports. There are millions of different ideas out there about how our sport should grow and progress. Regardless of which way is best, we won't advance any of our ideas without significant investment of person-to-person time with the ICF and our National Federation partners.
Finally, in my many years around the sport, I can say that our relationships are absolutely trending upward with Bob Lally at the helm of USA Canoe/Kayak. His extensive experience living and working abroad in military leadership and his eager enthusiasm to learn and offer assistance to our partners is driving the success of USA Canoe/Kayak's 5th goal to Expand Global Influence.
3) Alignment of Energies
Much of USA Canoe/Kayak's progress - on and off the water - connect to an alignment of energies but two elements in particular stand out relative to my Welland take-aways.
First, our partnership with the Canoe/Kayak Canada continues to be a fantastic growth initiative for competitive paddlesports in North America. From shared training camps to competitive opportunities to developing our strategic international initiatives, collaborative efforts at all levels are the sport are leveraging new opportunities and resources for more people. And we have room to extend this friendship even further in the near future.
Second, our partnership with Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation provided ourstanding coaching, equipment and logistical support that was critical to our performance in Welland and continues to build an operation capable of taking our elite programs to higher levels. Simply stated - our Oklahoma City partners are incredible partners.
Alignment of energies is at the heart of USA Canoe/Kayak's 4th goal - Empower Bold Leadership.
Sport teaches us well that our destination at USA Canoe/Kayk is one we never fully reach but moving our performances and organizational growth in the right direction is the true progress we are seeing today. We can't do it alone and we welcome your support.