Oh, the Places You’ll Row…in 2024?

Last week the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) sent letters to the mayors of 35 cities to gauge interest for a potential host city for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The USOC is in the process of identifying those cities which could put together a strong bid to bring the Summer Games back to the United States for the first time since 1996 (Atlanta).

Here’s a complete list of the 35 cities the USOC contacted:
Phoenix, Arizona
Los Angeles, California
Sacramento, California
San Diego, California
San Francisco, California
San Jose, California
Denver, Colorado
Washington, D.C.
Jacksonville, Florida
Miami, Florida
Orlando, Florida
Atlanta, Georgia
Chicago, Illinois
Indianapolis, Indiana
Baltimore, Maryland
Boston, Massachusetts
Detroit, Michigan
Minneapolis, Minnesota
St. Louis, Missouri
Las Vegas, Nevada
New York, New York
Rochester, New York
Charlotte, North Carolina
Columbus, Ohio
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Portland, Oregon
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Memphis, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Austin, Texas
Dallas, Texas
Houston, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Seattle, Washington

Of those cities, apparently Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, New York and Tulsa have already expressed interest in hosting the 2024 Games. There is a long list of requirements a city must meet in order to qualify as a viable bid, including having 45,000 available hotel rooms and an international airport. As a rower, I obviously look at this list through the “so, where do we row?” lens. With a limited number of 2,000-meter, 6-lane regulation racecourses in the United States today, several cities would have their work cut out for them to construct an Olympic-caliber rowing venue. To put this into context, the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships move around year to year in a small pool of only about five to six different venues in the U.S.; and the NCAA requirements aren’t as steep as that of the IOC/FISA.

FISA (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron) Race-Course specifications require six lanes, but in principle at least eight lanes should be available. (FISA requires certified courses built after February 2001 to have eight racing lanes). The regulations listed below are designed to allow fair racing conditions for six crews racing simultaneously in parallel lanes:
– Number of available lanes: 6
– Width of lanes: 13.5 meters
– Min. Required Depth: 3 meters
– Min. Recommended Depth: 3.5 meters
– Min. Recommended Length: 2150 meters
– Min. Recommended Width: 135 meters

While the probability that I will be training for the 2024 Summer Olympics is small (never say never), I decided to take a look at a handful of the cities and their prospective rowing venues. I have no concrete knowledge of what the actual rowing sites would be for each of the 35 cities, but I’ve compiled my own research, insight and sometimes a personal anecdote on potential venues. So all of you Junior rowers out there, take note; it could be you racing down one of these racecourses in 2024.

Los Angeles, California hosted the 1984 games; the rowing events took place at Lake Casitas in Ventura, 65 miles outside of L.A. In 2007, Lake Casitas was vying for the 2016 Olympic Rowing venue when Los Angeles was one of three candidates for the United States bid. I know there are several rowers and rowing enthusiasts who have read Brad Alan Lewis’ Assault on Lake Casitas. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it.

St. Louis, Missouri hosted the 1904 Games with the rowing events held at Creve Coeur Lake, located about a half an hour outside the city. While there is still rowing on the lake, my research tells me that the site is no longer viable for a regulation race course as the lake is now overgrown and too short to field a full 2,000-meter race. The St. Louis Rowing Club’s future goals include plans for growth and development and the capability to host major rowing events including the Master’s Nationals and National High School Championships. Hosting an Olympic Games would surely boost the venue’s capabilities; but it would also require quite a bit of construction and expansion to get there.

Atlanta, Georgia hosted the 1996 games. Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Georgia was the rowing site, located about an hour outside of Atlanta. Lake Lanier hosted the National Collegiate Championships in 1998 and 2001 (prior to when NCAA Divisions I, II, and III held separate championships beginning in 2002). Lake Lanier was also a training site for the U.S. men’s and women’s sculling teams during the ‘90s.

Indianapolis, Indiana is home to Eagle Creek Park. I had the pleasure of competing in my first USRowing Club National Championships held there in July 2011. From my experience, “Windy Indy” definitely lives up to its name. Eagle Creek is the only U.S. site to have hosted the World Rowing Championships (1994). The NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships were held here in 2002 and 2003. The 2013 NCAAs which were originally slated for Lake Lanier have been moved to Eagle Creek Park. This venue is no stranger to hosting large regattas, and is a FISA-approved racecourse.

If you head southwest from Orlando, Florida you’ll run right into Nathan Benderson Park located just off I-75 in Sarasota. When completed, the multimillion dollar development promises to be the premier rowing facility in the U.S. Just this month, the Sarasota County Commission approved a plan to officially bid for the 2017 World Rowing Championships. While the park is still currently under construction, the actual racecourse is a FISA-approved course. I would love to see the World Championships hosted in the U.S., and upon completion the park this could make for a pretty awesome Olympic venue.

Benderson Park

The Oklahoma River of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is located just 110 miles southwest from Tulsa, Oklahoma. There is also a lost Hudson seat lying somewhere on the river bottom, left there after I flipped my single during a set of “power 10s” when my oar found the broad side of a buoy marker. The Oklahoma River was named an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site for both rowing and canoe/kayak in 2009 and is a FISA-approved racecourse. Located on the banks of the Oklahoma River, the OKC National High Performance Center is the headquarters for the USRowing Lightweight National Team and has been named the National Adaptive (Para-Rowing) Training Center. The site has hosted the 2007 and 2011 USA Rowing World Challenge as well as the USRowing Master’s National Championships in 2011.

Lake Natoma located in Gold River, California just outside Sacramento seems like it would be the obvious site if the Olympics were to go to San Francisco, San Jose or Sacramento. Lake Natoma was part of the San Francisco Bay Area’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. The site has also hosted several NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships (2011, 2010, 2008, 2005 and 2004).

Staying in California, if the bid were to go to San Diego there are a couple of options for a rowing venue. The San Diego Crew Classic takes place every spring in Mission Bay. The 2,000-meter course spans a stretch of the bay, starting nearing the Sea World Towers and finishing near Crown Point Shores. About 10 miles south of San Diego is the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista and the Lower Otay Reservoir. Chula hosted the National Selection Regatta I and II, Paralympic Trials, and the Non-Qualified Olympic Small Boat Trials in 2012. The training center has become the winter training site for the U.S. men’s and women’s rowing teams. As with most any of the rowing venues in the U.S., both Mission Bay and the Lower Otay Lake would require extensive construction and development to create an Olympic rowing venue.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee is home to Melton Hill Lake located about two and half hours outside of Nashville. I have never visited, but I’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful and is known as one of the best rowing venues in the U.S. The 2,000-meter course provides seven straight lanes fully buoyed, protected by hills on each side. Oak Ridge hosted the USRowing National Championships in 1997 and 2000 and will host the 2013 USRowing Youth National Championships.

While Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is home to the iconic Boathouse Row on the Schuylkill River, there’s no way this narrow stretch of river nestled in the heart of Philly would be the site of any Olympic Rowing events. My guess is the course would be one of two places: Mercer County Park in West Windsor, NJ or the Cooper River in Camden, NJ. The same goes for if the Games were to go to New York, NY; these two sites would most likely be the nearest race venues.

I’ve never rowed the Cooper River, but there is a 2,000-meter, narrow straightaway that fits 6 race lanes. The Intercollegiate Rowing Associations Championships (IRAs) have been held there every year since 1995, with the exception of 2009. While it is probably one of the nation’s most used racecourses, it still has a list of issues. During the summer of 2012, it was announced that Cooper River Park would undergo a 5-year multimillion-dollar facelift to enhance the river and surrounding grounds. The project was set to begin that following winter because “both rowing and local officials recognize its potential as a world class rowing venue.” One goal of those enhancements would be to host international competitions. FISA has previously indicated that some aspects of the venue make it unsuitable for hosting a World Championship (or an Olympic Games). The 5-year facelift is scheduled to be complete by 2017, just in time for the 2024 host city bids.

Mercer County Park of West Windsor, New Jersey is home to the Finn Caspersen Rowing Center and has been designated by the USOC and USRowing as an official U.S. Olympic Training Site for rowing through 2018. If you’re an elite rower in the U.S., you have probably been to at least one National Selection Regatta or National Championship held on Mercer Lake (I raced my first 2K ever here at the 2011 National Selection Regatta I). The site has hosted the 2012 and 2006 NCAA Championships, five U.S. Olympic Team Trials and the FISA World Masters Rowing Championships in 2006.

Finn Caspersen Boathouse at Mercer Lake

Finally, with four cities on the list from the Lonestar State, I had to touch on at least one of them. White Rock Lake, located in northeast Dallas, Texas seems to be the place for oarsmen and women. The 1,254-acre city lake is home to the Southern Methodist University Men’s and Women’s Rowing Team, Dallas United CrewWhite Rock Rowingand several other programs. The city just approved the construction of a $4 million dollar boathouse to be built on the lake in addition to the already existing White Rock Boathouse.One of the most exciting things that I came across through my research was the widespread enthusiasm and support for rowing. There are cities all across the U.S. putting money into developing boathouses and parks that could potentially host large regattas in the future. It would be wonderful to have the Summer Games brought back to the United States. While I may not be in a boat, I’d love to find myself in the grandstands, perhaps at one of the venues listed above.

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